Following the Environmental Protection Agency’s release of a “roadmap” it plans to follow for addressing the PFAS pollution crisis harming thousands of communities, it’s a good time to share a separate roadmap for how Congress – and the rest of the Biden administration – can address these toxic “forever chemicals.”
Here are six things Congress must do right away to turn off the tap of PFAS pollution, reduce PFAS in drinking water and household products, and clean up legacy PFAS contamination, especially at hundreds of Defense Department installations. Congress must:
- Pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will provide $10 billion to get PFAS out of our drinking water, and the budget reconciliation bill, which includes millions to help fire departments replace firefighting foam and gear with PFAS-free alternatives.
- Pass bills introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) to set deadlines for EPA limits on industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water. The EPA plan is just too slow. Rather than waiting for the agency to act, Congress should also close loopholes that allow companies to hide these discharges from the public.
- Quickly enact reforms included in the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2022 that would provide more funds to clean up hundreds of DOD installations, set deadlines for action, end the incineration of legacy firefighting foam made with PFAS and drive PFAS out of everyday products procured by the DOD. To accelerate the cleanup process, Congress should also set deadlines for the EPA to designate other PFAS, not just PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances.
- Place a moratorium on the incineration of PFAS waste, which sends PFAS downwind to communities that are often disproportionately harmed by toxic chemicals. Congress should also require testing of sludge to protect our farmers from contaminating their crops and livestock and ensure that other PFAS wastes are properly disposed of.
- End needless uses of PFAS in everyday products by banning PFAS in food packaging and cosmetics and by directing the DOD to procure PFAS-free alternatives when buying household products. To help consumers avoid goods made with PFAS, Congress should create a PFAS-free label.
- Provide the EPA, DOD and other federal agencies with the resources needed to swiftly address PFAS in the end-of-year spending bill, including $787 million to clean up PFAS at DOD installations, as Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) proposed this week.
The Biden administration should also require other federal agencies – especially the DOD, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration – to produce their own PFAS roadmaps.
Creating an interagency council, as the White House proposed this week, is no substitute for cleaning up contamination at DOD sites, banning PFAS from food packaging and allowing commercial airports to use PFAS-free foams. Much more needs to be done, as the President Joe Biden pledged, to drive PFAS out of everyday products.
Although the EPA’s PFAS roadmap is a good first step, the plan leaves a lot of work for Congress. Many of the legislative proposals for tackling PFAS are included in the bipartisan PFAS Action Act, which has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. And the Biden administration doesn’t need Congress to act to give agencies like DOD, FDA, and the FAA new marching orders.
Biden during his presidential campaign pledged to finally tackle PFAS in the "Biden Plan to Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Opportunity." He pledged to designate the chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, set enforceable limits for PFAS in water and prioritize PFAS substitutes during government procurement.
To make good on these commitments, Biden, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan must put pressure on Congress – and other federal agencies – to do their part.