House, Senate Pass Bills to Expand PFAS Monitoring

The bill would provide funding to states for PFAS water treatment infrastructure

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The emerging concern of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in our nation's water sources has gained the attention of water and wastewater treatment plant operators, who are wondering what the next steps will be. U.S. Congress and the White House, however, remain divided about the issue.

The House, Senate and White House are in disagreement over a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would address PFAS in drinking water. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan version of the bill, which would dramatically expand efforts to monitor the scope of PFAS contamination and eliminate a major source of the contamination.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 — by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) — would add the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS to the list of contaminants tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey and require public utilities to test tap water for PFAS chemicals.

The amendment would also require manufacturers to report, through the Toxic Release Inventory, air and water discharges of many PFAS chemicals. And the defense bill will require the Pentagon to phase out by 2023 the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam and require military facilities to meet state cleanup standards.

In addition, the bill directs the EPA to finalize a rule that limits new PFAS uses, provides funding to states for PFAS water treatment infrastructure, and requires EPA guidance on PFAS disposal.

More recently, the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill that includes amendments requiring the Defense Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor and clean up the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

The package of amendments would:

• Quickly phase out military use of PFAS in firefighting foam.

• End the use of PFAS in military food packaging.

• Expand water-quality monitoring for PFAS.

• Ensure proper incineration of military PFAS wastes.

• Accelerate PFAS clean-ups at military facilities.

• Provide an additional $5 million for a PFAS study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

• Designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the Superfund law.

• Require the Government Accountability Office to study Defense Department cleanup efforts.

• Create an online health database for military personnel.

PFAS chemicals are linked to cancer and reproductive harm have been found in the drinking water of millions of Americans. Under current law, there are no limits on PFAS discharges into the air and water, no requirements to filter contaminated water, and no requirements to clean up legacy PFAS contamination.

“Today’s vote marks a turning point, with Congress actively pursuing plans to help combat the ballooning PFAS contamination crisis that is impacting military bases and nearby communities throughout the country,” says Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group senior vice-president for government affairs.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the defense spending bill if it contains language requiring the Pentagon to clean up PFAS contamination at military installations around the country.

Currently, federal agencies and public water utilities do not routinely monitor for PFAS in water and food.

Earlier this month, EWG released a report and map identifying 475 manufacturing facilities that could be discharging PFAS. EWG also recently released FDA studies showing high levels of PFAS in food, including meat, dairy, seafood, fruits and vegetables.


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