In an August 2023 report on per- and polyfluoroalkyl (“PFAS”) substance uses, the U.S. Department of Defense (“DoD”) argues that phasing out PFAS production may harm national security. This report comes after 3M announced it will phase out production of PFAS and PFAS-containing products by 2025. The report to the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Senate outlines the uses of PFAS that DoD believes are critical to domestic production of weapons and which DOD argues will be challenging and costly to find alternatives for.
PFAS substances are used by the DoD across several weapons platforms. DoD identified PFAS uses in almost every weapon system category reviewed by the report, including in the production of military aircraft, surface ships, submarines, missiles, torpedo systems, radar systems, battle tanks, assault vehicles, and infantry carriers.
DoD’s report asserts several “mission-critical military end uses” of PFAS, which are uses of regulated substances by a federal agency responsible for national defense that purportedly have a direct impact on the development, testing, production, training, operation, and maintenance of Armed Forces vessels, aircraft, vehicles, equipment, and munitions. According to the DoD, several mission-critical sectors that would suffer from broad regulation of PFAS include:
- Kinetic capabilities.
- Energy storage and batteries.
- Microelectronics and semiconductors.
- Casting and forgings.
- Electronics Thermal Control, Fire Suppression, Aqueous Film Forming Foam in DoD Vessels, Fuel Lines, Degreasing Fluids, Adhesives, and Insulation in DoD weapons.
The report distinguishes essential from nonessential uses of PFAS, noting that some of the structurally defined PFAS are used exclusively in military applications. DoD notes in the report that it is working on phasing out nonessential and noncritical uses of PFAS where there is no mission critical impact (i.e. in food packaging, cookware, furniture, etc.). The report argues that overly broad regulation of mission-critical uses of PFAS would impact DoD’s ability to fulfill its mission, but notes that eliminating nonessential uses of PFAS is an important step toward addressing public concerns and protecting human health and the environment.
DoD’s report recommends that Congress and federal regulatory agencies should avoid taking a broad “structural” approach to banning PFAS and instead balance the range of environmental and health risks of PFAS with their potential importance to the U.S. economy and society.