Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, met Dec. 12 with Army and Air Force veteran Jim Holmes and his wife, Richelle, who recently lost their 17-year-old daughter, Kaela, to brain cancer after living for years at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, Florida — one of the nation’s military installations most severely impacted by PFAS contamination.
The Holmes were on Capitol Hill to share their daughter’s story and to advocate for Congress to hold the Department of Defense accountable for cleaning up PFAS contamination that was caused by the Department of Defense.
“I thank Mr. and Mrs. Holmes for sharing their story with members of Congress and me today,” said Carper. “Losing a child is something that no parent should have to endure. Their bravery and advocacy will help my colleagues understand the magnitude and urgency of the very real problem before us. Sadly, I fear that the Holmes family is not alone. We have military communities throughout the country that are still drinking water with high levels of PFOA and PFOS, two harmful PFAS chemicals. Recent studies show that there are almost 300 known U.S. military installations with water systems impacted by PFAS contamination — including two in Delaware. Our men and women in uniform and the families who love them sacrifice enough already. They should be able to serve our country with the peace of mind that our military will do the right thing and protect families from harmful water contamination.”
“At this very moment, there is widespread, bipartisan agreement in Congress that we need to speed up Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler’s long-promised plans to list PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, which would force liable polluters — including the Department of Defense — to clean up contamination of these two chemicals present in and around Patrick Air Force Base, Dover Air Force Base and so many others,” said Carper.
“In the wake of Kaela’s tragic passing, Jim and Richelle are fighting to protect other families and children,” said Carper. “We owe it to them and to communities throughout the country to do the right thing — designate these two harmful chemicals as hazardous substances, which would compel liable polluters to clean up contamination, and set a protective federal drinking water standard. Our fight is not over. The time is now is the time to get these important PFAS provisions across the finish line.”
Before his retirement earlier in 2019, Jim Holmes spent more than 30 years flying helicopters in both the Army and Air Force. He served in both Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq War. The Holmes family lived at Patrick AFB from the beginning of his combat tour in Iraq in 2008, and left the base in 2012.
October 2019 data from U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works shows that Patrick AFB has the third highest maximum PFAS detection of any military installation in the country, at higher than 4 million parts per trillion — more than 57,000 times as high as the Environmental Protection Agency’s 70 parts per trillion drinking water health advisory for PFOA and PFOS. Nationwide, Environmental Working Group data shows there are nearly 300 military installations with known contamination, including two in Delaware, at Dover Air Force Base and New Castle Air National Guard Base.
In July, the Senate passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that was introduced by Carper, EPW Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, that included several measures that had been approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Despite the widespread bipartisan support for that package, the NDAA conference report does not include one of its key provisions that would create a two-year deadline for setting a federal drinking water standard for these chemicals. The NDAA conference report also does not include provisions that treat PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the EPA Superfund law — even though Carper’s legislation, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, has 53 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and the same legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and unanimously approved by the House as an amendment to the House NDAA.
Carper slammed congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle Dec. 5 for the dropping of language in NDAA addressing PFAS contamination, saying “Congress had a key opportunity to give these hundreds of American communities the help they so desperately need and deserve. But because of behind-the-scenes, beltway politics we are about to miss that opportunity.”