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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaking with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley before a Senate committee hearing on June 17, 2021. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Government Accountability Office said in a new report this month that the Department of Defense should disclose to Congress how much it expects future "forever chemicals" cleanup efforts near military installations will cost because the price "will likely increase significantly."

Why it matters: Though the Pentagon has estimated that cleaning up the durable and toxic chemicals will require around $2.1 billion, it has never included the cost information in its annual environmental reports to Congress, the GAO said.

How it works: DoD has used firefighting foams containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) since the 1970s to quickly extinguish fuel fires on ships and airplanes.

  • The department's use of the foams has contaminated hundreds of public and private drinking water systems near military installations with PFAS, which resist degradation by repelling oil and water and withstanding high temperatures.
  • PFAS bioaccumulate in living organisms and have been linked to adverse health effects, including an increased risk of developing cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency.

What they're saying: "DOD has not reported future PFAS cost estimates, or the scope and limitations of those estimates, in its annual environmental reports to Congress," the GAO said in the report.

  • "By reporting this information to Congress, DOD would ensure that Congress has increased visibility into the significant costs and efforts associated with PFAS investigation and cleanup at or near military installations."

By the numbers: DoD is currently conducting cleanup efforts at or near 687 installations, but the number of sites are likely to increase since the department is still in the early phases of its PFAS investigation, according to the GAO.

  • "DOD expects its PFAS cost estimates, and thus its environmental liability, to increase significantly as the department makes progress in the investigation and cleanup of PFAS — a process that could take decades to fully complete," the GAO said.

The big picture: DoD is required by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 to find and use a PFAS-free firefighting foam in most emergencies by no later than October 2023.

  • It has yet to identify an alternative that meets its safety standards, and it is unclear if a PFAS-free foam will ever fully meet the requirements.
  • DoD has already devoted about $16 million to researching an alternative and is expected to spend around another $34 million through fiscal year 2025, according to GAO.

Go deeper: The Pentagon's multibillion-dollar "forever chemicals" problem

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

4 hours ago - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.

By the numbers: Catholics, Biden and abortion

Expand chart
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Biden — the second Catholic U.S. president — will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, as some church leaders debate whether to deny Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

By the numbers: Overall, two in three U.S. Catholics believe Biden should be allowed to take Communion despite his stance on abortion, according to polling by Pew Research Center.