Environmental groups accuse government of burning ‘forever chemicals’

A St. Louis fireman sprays foam on the underside of a fire truck October 10, 2008. The U.S. government developed a plan to incinerate stocks of firefighting foam, which contains cancer-causing chemicals. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Feb. 20 (UPI) — A group of environmental and community organizations sued the Trump administration Thursday, accusing the government of improperly burning stockpiles of so-called “forever chemicals,” which could cause cancer and other deadly illnesses.

Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in California, said the Department of Defense should have considered the environmental and health impacts of incinerating the substances before doing so. The organization is representing concerned groups in several communities, including East Liverpool, Ohio; Port Arthur, Texas; and St. Louis, as well as the Sierra Club.

The lawsuit concerns the incineration of foam firefighters used to use to battle blazes. The foam contains a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which have been shown to cause cancer, liver disease, infertility and other health problems.

The government stopped using the foam after facing multiple lawsuits over the safety of the substance. The Department of Defense then decided to incinerate the unused foam.

But Earthjustice said defense officials should conduct an environmental review before doing so to ensure that particles released in the incineration process can’t harm local communities.

“Incineration does not solve the Defense Department’s PFAS problems; it just pawns them off on already overburdened communities,” said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz. “PFAS chemicals are used in firefighting foam precisely because they don’t burn. Instead of destroying those chemicals, incinerating the foam releases PFAS and other toxins into the air. DOD’s decision to authorize large-scale PFAS incineration without considering the health impacts is shortsighted and illegal.”

The organization said it obtained government documents indicating the government has already begun incineration in East Liverpool; Arkadelphia and El Dorado, Ark.; and Cohoes, N.Y.; and plans to begin doing so in Port Arthur and Sauget, Ill.

“It is critical for local communities to be informed of potentially dangerous chemical operations that could impact the health of the residents,” said Hilton Kelley, founder and director of Community In-Power and Development Association in Port Arthur.

“It’s not just the families living near the incinerator, we don’t even understand how many people living in this area could potentially be impacted or how far the emissions from burning PFAS might travel. We have a right to know what’s in the air we are breathing, in order to decide what’s best for ourselves and our families.”

The lawsuit says the Department of Defense’s decision to incinerate the firefighting foam violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Department of Defense told UPI it can’t comment on pending litigation.


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