Congress Fails To Address PFAS Contamination in Nation’s Tap Water or Clean Up Legacy PFAS Pollution

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For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, December 17, 2019

WASHINGTON – The defense spending bill passed by the Senate today excludes key provisions designed to reduce ongoing releases of the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, remove PFAS from tap water and clean up legacy PFAS contamination.

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020, or NDAA, dropped provisions:

  • Restricting PFAS discharges from manufacturers into drinking water supplies under the Clean Water Act.
  • Requiring water utilities to reduce the amount of PFAS in tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Designating PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law that requires cleanup of the most contaminated sites.

The final NDAA will phase out the military’s use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging, expand reporting of PFAS discharges through the Toxic Release Inventory, and expand monitoring for PFAS in tap water and ground water. The bill also requires that the Department of Defense properly incinerate firefighting foams and expands DOD clean-up programs to include National Guard bases.

But the bill falls far short of the progress needed for communities struggling with contaminated water. PFAS has now been detected in the water of nearly 1,400 communities, including nearly 300 military installations.

“Thanks to the leadership of Sens. Capito and Gillibrand and Reps. Delgado and Gallagher, we’ll know which companies are releasing toxic PFAS chemicals into the air and water. But 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.

“It’s good news that the Defense Department will finally phase out PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging,” said Faber. “But communities desperately need Congress to tackle industrial PFAS releases into the air and water and to require DOD to clean up legacy PFAS pollution.”

In January, the House will consider H.R. 535, which designates PFAS as hazardous substances, but the NDAA was the best chance to tackle PFAS pollution, Faber said.

“The right way to tackle PFAS in our tap water is to stop further discharges into our drinking water, and force polluters and the Pentagon to pay their fair share for cleanup – and none of that will happen until Congress acts,” Faber said. “The NDAA was not our only chance to end PFAS pollution and hold polluters and the Defense Department accountable but it was our best chance. By failing to reduce ongoing PFAS releases and clean up legacy PFAS pollution, Congress shirked one its most basic responsibilities – keeping us safe.”

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