In 2018, then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt promised to designate a toxic firefighting chemical called Per/Polyfluorinated Substances, also known as PFAS, as a hazardous substance that could be regulated, but since then has done nothing about the 610 sites in 43 states contaminated by PFAS, including 117 military sites, and the nearly 500 industrial sites that are potentially discharging PFAS into the air and water, according to a recent study by the Environmental Working Group. So now members of both parties in Congress are working together to ban PFAS use in fire suppression on military installations, and many states are working to pass similar bans.
Why This Matters: The President can make false claims that his Administration is working hard to ensure we have “crystal clean” air, land, and water, but nothing could be further from the truth with respect to toxic PFAS contamination. They have made empty promises while leaving it to Congress and the states to provide funds and mandate a solution to this contamination scourge. The Administration could have acted in a meaningful way already but failed to do so. According to the Environmental Working Group, “a ‘hazardous substance’ designation under Superfund triggers reporting requirements for releases over a certain threshold. Anytime the hazardous substance is released into the air, land or water in amounts exceeding the threshold, it triggers an investigation and potential cleanup.” And the Administration could have set tighter restrictions on its use under the Toxic Substances Control Act. They have shown their willingness to take bold action in other areas, but on this one, the Trump Administration has been sitting on its hands doing nothing at all.
Congressional Action on PFAS
- The Senate passed a version of the DoD authorizing legislation that requires the military to stop purchasing firefighting foams made with PFAS chemicals by Oct. 1, 2022, and to stop using it on military installations by Oct. 1, 2023, with the exception of ocean-going vessels.
- The House version of the same legislation, which is being debated this week, could go even farther, providing more than $121 million in dedicated environmental remediation funding to address PFAS-contaminated drinking water near military installations, funding for blood tests for military firefighters to check for PFAS exposure, and authorization for the Defense Department to provide clean water to farmers near military installations with PFAS-contaminated groundwater.
State Action on PFAS
- In New York, a bill banning PFAS in suppressant foams used to fight fires is heading to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk — the chemical has been found on federal military installations in the state, including Stewart Air National Guard Base in the Hudson Valley.
- Vermont is planning to ban any combination of five PFAS — PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA — at 20 parts per trillion – which is tougher than the current standard which is set at 70 parts per trillion.
- According to E&E News, at least five other states have policies or have indicated they are pursuing policies stricter than EPA’s current health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS including Alaska, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.