Congress balks on PFAS regulations

Posted 12/11/19

WASHINGTON D.C. — Materials called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and many other applications, and have contaminated …

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Congress balks on PFAS regulations

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Materials called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and many other applications, and have contaminated thousands of water bodies in the U.S. including the municipal water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh in New York. In Hoosick Falls, residents have linked PFAS contamination to cancers, and so have some scientific studies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, has less definitive information. “Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain,” it said in a release. “Studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS have found that some PFAS may affect growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver.” CDC also says PFAS are in the blood of “all of the people tested.”

Congress was working to take serious measures to address the PFAS issue in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020, (NDAA), which was finalized on December 9. But environmental groups say the final legislation dropped consideration of the most important elements of the bill.

The Environment Working Group (EWG) reported that the NDAA does not restrict manufacturers from discharging PFAS into drinking water supplies, does not require municipalities to reduce the amount of PFAS in tap water and does not designate PFAS as hazardous substances.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19) released the following statement on the status of negotiations over the inclusion of PFAS provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
“The end result of negotiations around PFAS provisions in this year’s NDAA is nothing short of disgraceful. Instead of arriving at a deal through a transparent and collaborative process that included meaningful input from conferees, leaders in both parties opted to hijack negotiations at the 11th hour behind closed doors. This is shamefully undemocratic.

“The House passed a landmark bill that prioritized the cleanup and prevention of future PFAS contamination. Despite this, the final agreement strips the bill of the most meaningful PFAS provisions and leaves countless Americans exposed to these toxic chemicals. The idea that this body would approach a matter of life and death for millions across this country as another political horse trade is abhorrent and precisely why Americans on both sides of the aisle are losing faith in the system.”

The final NDAA does take some steps to limit the spread of PFAS. It requires the military to phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. It will also expand testing for PFAS in ground and tap water, and expand reporting of PFAS discharges. But environmentalists say it’s not nearly enough, given that PFAS have been found in 1,400 drinking water supplies in the U.S.

“When your water is polluted with toxic PFAS, it’s not much comfort to know who is polluting it,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “While it’s good news that the Defense Department (DOD) will finally phase out PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging, communities desperately need Congress to tackle industrial PFAS releases into the air and water and to require DOD to cleanup legacy PFAS pollution.”

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