Bipartisan PFAS Package Clears Key Senate Committee

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

WASHINGTON – A key Senate committee today approved a bipartisan proposal to expand dramatically government efforts to monitor the scope of the PFAS contamination crisis.

The proposal approved by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will add PFAS, the family of toxic “forever chemicals” numbering in the thousands, to the list of contaminants tracked by a national water-quality monitoring network and require drinking-water utilities to test for PFAS chemicals. The amendment would also require manufacturers to report, through the Toxic Release Inventory, air and water discharges of many PFAS chemicals. 

The proposal, authored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), is expected to be added to a must-pass defense bill called the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020. In current form, the bill requires the military to phase out, by 2023, its use of firefighting foam containing PFAS and requires DOD facilities to meet state cleanup standards. 

The proposal combines bipartisan bills that were introduced by Sens. Capito, Carper, Barrasso, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D), and Kirsten Gillibrand (R-N.Y.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“The first step to addressing the PFAS contamination crisis is understanding where PFAS pollution is coming from and how far it has spread,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs. “The fact that we know so little is a scandal. Much more needs to be done to address the crisis, but monitoring the scope of PFAS pollution will lay the groundwork for further progress.”

Federal agencies and water utilities do not routinely monitor for PFAS in water and food. 

The bipartisan proposal also sets a deadline for EPA to develop a drinking water cleanup standard for water utilities and creates a federal task force to address the threats posed by drinking water contaminants like PFAS. The amendment also directs 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. 

But the amendment does not designate PFAS as a “hazardous substance” under the federal Superfund law, which is needed to kickstart the PFAS cleanup process at the most contaminated sites. More than 30 senators have cosponsored the PFAS Action Act, and Sen. Carper has filed an amendment to the defense bill modeled after the bill. 

“Thanks to the leadership of Sens. Capito, Carper, Barrasso, Stabenow, Rounds and Gillibrand, the Senate is taking important steps to address PFAS contamination. But much more needs to be done,” Faber said. “We need to address ongoing sources of PFAS pollution, including air and water discharges of PFAS and applications of PFAS-tainted sludge on farm fields. We need to phase out the use of PFAS in food packaging and everyday products. We need to designate PFAS as a ‘hazardous substance’ to kickstart the cleanup process in the places with the worst contamination. But today's compromise is an important first step. It’s a sad state of affairs that the administration could have taken all of these steps but that instead it will take an act of Congress to do begin to do what’s right.”

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

Previously, EWG released a map documenting PFAS contamination, including a map with documented military contamination. 

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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