Environmental Protection: DOD Management Issues Related to Chaff

NSIAD-98-219 Published: Sep 22, 1998. Publicly Released: Oct 02, 1998.
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) use of chaff and its long-term effects on the environment, focusing on: (1) the extent and locations of chaff use; (2) its reported known and potential effects; and (3) the initiatives being taken or considered to address chaff's unintended effects.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to study the costs and benefits of the degradable chaff program before making a production procurement decision.
Closed – Implemented
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM) has postponed a decision to purchase degradable chaff, may discontinue degradable chaff research, and is currently supplying regular chaff to naval aviators. These decisions were based on the findings of the Select Panel Review of Chaff (discussed in recommendation #2) which published its report in 08/1999. The report found, based on available data, that environmental, human, and agricultural impacts from chaff are negligible, but recommended further research. The Program Manager for the degradable chaff program said the Navy will await the findings from the additional research (see recommendation #2) to be completed by 08/2001, before they make a final decision concerning degradable chaff.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to determine the merits of open questions made in previous chaff reports and whether additional actions are needed to address them.
Closed – Implemented
The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment, in consultation with his counterparts in the Air Force and the Army, recommended that a Blue Ribbon Panel of non-government scientists be established. The Select Panel of university-based research scientists, each with published expertise in fields relevant to the subject area, was established in April 1999. The panel was asked to review the environmental effects of chaff used by the U.S. military in training exercises in and around the continental United States and to make recommendations to decrease scientific uncertainty where significant environmental effects of chaff are possible. Their report was issued 8/31/1999 and recommended additional work. Additional research was contracted on 8/30/2000 that will determine the break up, abrasion, re-suspension, shape, and distribution of chaff. The contractor will prepare a report detailing research methods and results.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to prepare a specific plan to ensure that chaff containing lead at inventory control points and military installations is located and eliminated.
Closed – Implemented
The Air Force will identify all remaining lead-based chaff in its inventory. All lead-based training chaff will be eliminated and all combat chaff containing lead will be clearly marked and will only be used to meet combat requirements. According to the responsible Air Force officer in the Air Staff Office of Ranges and Airspace, all chaff containing lead has been removed from Air Force training and combat inventories.

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