Back in July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper stood up a task force to address cancer-causing chemicals found in base water sources. Now, it has four months to do its research and report back.

The task force on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — better known as PFAS ― will meet at least once a month, according to operating principles released Tuesday, and report back to Esper with their progress, with a January deadline to submit their final findings and recommendations.

The task force is meant to “ensure a coordinated, aggressive and holistic approach on DoD-wide efforts to proactively address PFAS,” according to the document.

To do that, the members have five main goals:

  • The health implications of PFAS exposure, and education for military health care workers.
  • Standards for clean-up and the performance thereof.
  • The search for a substitute for the PFAS-packed firefighting foam used in aircraft and vehicle incidents.
  • Collaborating with other related agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which so far has has set the federal standards for identifying contamination and handling it.
  • Keeping Congress and the public updated on the task force’s efforts.

So far, 297 installations have documented PFAS contamination, specifically perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid, two types that the EPA requires the services to monitor.

The chemicals have been linked to various types of cancers, and according to the Environmental Working Group, the 70 parts-per-trillion measurement deemed safe by the EPA may still be dangerous, considering how little exposure is required to cause health issues, and how much it can build up for service members and their families living in military housing over years and decades.

The task force now has to report to Esper every thirty days, with interim findings due in three months and a full report due in four.

Their reports must include a prioritized list of action items, with offices designated to address each one. There should also be recommended actions, with a timeline, to address each one.

The members of the task force are largely assistant secretary level civilians dealing with logistics, health and environment from DoD, each of the service departments and the National Guard bureau. The Pentagon comptroller, a deputy general counsel and top officials with public and legislative affairs have also been tapped to join.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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