In the ongoing bid to address chemicals that have contaminated drinking water in dozens, if not hundreds, of communities nationwide, new bills addressing PFAS were introduced this week — and a congressional hearing on PFAS legislation was scheduled for next week.
“Let’s get all those solutions brought to the table and let’s thoroughly discuss them," said Rep. Paul Tonko (D., N.Y.), who chairs the environmental subcommittee that will hold the hearing Wednesday. He spoke in Montgomery County at a roundtable Monday hosted by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.). “We hope we’re going to be able to move something this year.”
PFAS chemicals caused public and private drinking wells to be shut down in Bucks and Montgomery Counties in 2014 and 2016; they have resulted in ongoing cleanup problems and health concerns. The chemicals have been linked to cancers, immune problems, and other health issues.
An analysis released this week by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University showed 610 sites in 43 states are contaminated by PFAS. Of those sites, 17 were counted in Pennsylvania and 43 in New Jersey. Later this month, Pennsylvania officials are beginning a statewide testing program to determine how many more public water systems may be contaminated.
Lawmakers dealing with contamination in their local communities said this week they believed some PFAS bills could pass and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has promised to move them to a vote. Broadly, they seek to force the federal government — including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense — to quickly implement treatment, cleanup, and protection measures to remove the chemicals from the environment.
“It has fallen to Congress to advance policies that will reduce the threat of these toxic chemicals. Representatives from across the country are stepping up with important legislation to confront this crisis,” Tonko said in announcing the hearing.
Here’s a look at some of the bills the lawmakers may debate. Most have bipartisan support and are bicameral:
Safe drinking water standard: This bill requires the EPA to establish a standard for the amount of PFAS that can legally be present in drinking water, known as a maximum contaminant level.
Federal accountability: With a bill introduced this week, lawmakers hope to force the federal government, including the military, to clean up contaminated sites, sparing states and local communities from bearing the cost. It would specify deadlines for completing various actions.
Military cleanup: Another bill would require the Department of Defense to submit a plan and authorize funding for cleanup by the military.
PFAS detection: In order to conduct nationwide sampling for PFAS in the environment, this bill would allocate $45 million to the U.S. Geological Survey for development of new technologies for detecting PFAS, with an aim of mapping all PFAS water contamination in the U.S.
Drinking water systems: This legislation would set up a grant program to allow public drinking water systems across the U.S. to install treatment technology for PFAS. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) said the bill would give communities the ability to eliminate the chemicals from their drinking water.
Hazardous substances: Two bills would require the EPA to designate PFAS as hazardous substances. A third proposal would regulate the chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. A fourth bill would add PFAS to the list of hazardous air substances. A bill introduced Thursday would require PFAS to be listed on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. It would force manufacturers to report their usage of PFAS to the EPA as public information.
Veteran database: A bill introduced in the House and Senate would create a national database for military veterans who have had health problems they believe could be caused by PFAS. Anyone signed up would also receive updates on PFAS developments.
Veteran health effects: One bipartisan proposal seeks to include blood testing for PFAS in routine physicals for military firefighters. Another bill would designate illnesses caused by PFAS as a service-connected disability, requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover treatment and making affected veterans eligible for disability payments.
Other bills include proposals to force polluters to pay water-treatment costs; make changes to laws that govern toxic and hazardous substances; and create a consumer advisory label for pots, pans, and cooking utensils that are free of PFAS.