WASHINGTON – A bipartisan amendment proposed for the Senate version of an annual defense spending bill would dramatically expand efforts to monitor the scope of the toxic PFAS chemical contamination crisis.
The amendment, filed by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), would add PFAS to the list of contaminants tracked by a national water-quality monitoring network run by the U.S. Geological Survey 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 defense bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020, would already require the military to phase out, by 2023, its use of firefighting foam containing PFAS and require DOD facilities to meet state cleanup standards.
“The first step to addressing the PFAS contamination crisis is knowing where PFAS pollution is coming from and understanding 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.”
Currently, federal agencies and water utilities do not routinely monitor for PFAS in water and food.
The bipartisan amendment would also set a deadline for EPA to develop a drinking water cleanup standard for water utilities and create a federal task force to address the threats posed by contaminants like PFAS. The drinking water standard would initially apply to PFOA and PFOS but could include other PFAS chemicals as EPA finalizes expected toxicity reviews.
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.
“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 end 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 PFAS contamination. But this compromise is an important first step. It’s a sad state of affairs that EPA 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 this 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.
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.