Senators Urge Action on PFAS

Twenty-five U.S. senators signed a letter asking U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to set a legally binding limit for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The move comes as public and private sector groups increase pressure on Congress and the administration to take action.

PFAS is a category of manmade chemicals now viewed as emerging contaminants that have been widely used to make products stain-resistant, waterproof, and nonstick. They’ve also been used in firefighting foam, including that used by the armed services in training exercises and to extinguish fires in places such as military installations, and the chemicals have emerged in drinking water sources near military bases across the country.

The letter, dated April 13, points out while the EPA established in 2016 a lifetime health advisory (LHA) of 70 parts per trillion for concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) in drinking water, the LHA is not legally enforceable and cannot be used to determine remediation responsibilities and transfers of surplus Department of Defense property under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The senators write that because of those reasons a federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) that is science-based is needed as it would provide a clear and enforceable nationwide standard for permissible levels of these contaminants.

On April 19, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), one of the letter signers, and Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) introduced the PFAS Registry Act, legislation that would create a national database for service members and veterans experiencing health problems possibly due to contamination from PFAS.

The bipartisan bill would allow military personnel and veterans to receive updates on recent scientific developments on the effects of PFAS exposure, availability of possible treatment options, and information on what resources may be available to address their health concerns.

“Congress has an important role to play to ensure that Americans have safe drinking water,” Shaheen said. “Too many people, particularly service members and veterans who are in environments that have higher exposure to these chemicals, have been left wondering about the potential health impact of PFAS-contaminated water. That’s unacceptable. Our residents deserve answers and assistance, and this bill will help provide just that.”

NGWA’s government affairs team has been active in 2018 on issues relating to PFAS. Senator Shaheen spoke at the 2018 Water Resources Congressional Summit and NGWA members urged EPA to adopt an MCL during the 2018 NGWA Groundwater Fly-In. NGWA has been working with Congress to make sure support is given to health studies and drinking water monitoring around areas affected by PFAS.

The EPA is hosting a summit discussing PFAS with state and local government leaders. The National Leadership Summit will take place May 22-23 in Washington, D.C. NGWA will be represented at the event by Lauren Schapker, government affairs director, and Seth Kellogg, PG, a senior geologist at Geosyntec and an NGWA Scientists and Engineers Board of Directors member.

NGWA is also hosting the PFAS in Groundwater Workshop: The Professional’s Challenge August 14-15 in St. Paul, Minnesota, which will address the thought processes of practitioners regarding how to apply scientific and legal considerations to sites contaminated with PFAS.

Late in 2017, NGWA published Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice to address current concerns. This guidance document, divided into eight sections, details how the potentially hazardous compounds interact with groundwater and soil. The guidance document has also been distributed as a resource to congressional offices.

“NGWA felt this particular group of compounds were so unique, persistent, and pervasive, 36 volunteers, 14 of whom have Ph.D.s, dedicated 1100 hours over a 12-month period to research, then develop, this document,” said Kellogg, who served as an author of the document.

“As the Association dedicated to the responsible development of groundwater, we felt it was necessary to explore these emerging contaminants so our members and the public have the tools necessary to protect the resource of groundwater and to minimize health threats.”​