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U.S. PFAS Bill passes House, but faces major hurdle in Senate

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Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 535, the PFAS Action Act, to clean up communities affected by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination and protect communities and the environment from the harmful chemicals.

PFAS are commonly used in everything from Teflon cookware to microwave popcorn bags, stain-resistant carpets and firefighting foam, and have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, low birth weights and higher cholesterol. The chemicals have so far been detected in more than 1,400 communities in almost every state, and the U.S. Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 100 million Americans may be drinking water contaminated with the highly toxic chemicals.

“I am pleased the House passed this critical bill to protect the health and safety of all Americans,” announced Environment Subcommittee Chairperson Harley Rouda. “My Subcommittee has been investigating the devastating health effects of these toxic ‘forever chemicals’ for more than 10 months, and it is crystal clear that the federal regulation of PFAS chemicals and action to clean up contaminated sites are crucial and long overdue. This bill will finally establish regulations to help shield our constituents from these dangerous and deadly chemicals and address this national emergency,” added Rouda.

The Act passed the House with two bipartisan amendments co-led by Rouda. The first makes it illegal for industrial facilities to introduce PFAS into sewage treatment systems without first disclosing information about those substances.

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The second amendment requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to review and develop effluent standards, pretreatment standards, and water quality criteria for PFAS under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as well as authorizing $100 million in federal grants for each year from 2021 through 2025 to publicly-owned treatment works to implement pretreatment standards.

Among other amendments, the Act is requiring the EPA to develop a national risk-communication strategy to inform the public about PFAS hazards.

Earlier in January, U.S. President Donald Trump personally pledged to veto the PFAS Action Act if it passes the Republican-controlled senate. According to the U.S. Environmental Working Group, the EPA issued a press statement touting the agency’s “aggressive” efforts to address PFAS pollution just hours before the White House issued its veto threat.

If the Act passes the Senate, where it’s reported to have substantial opposition, the legislation will protect drinking water by requiring the EPA to create a drinking water standard for perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) within two years. The Act is also designed to protect the Great Lakes, rivers and streams from PFAS pollution by listing PFOS and PFOA under the Clean Water Act within two years.

The legislation would also require corporate polluters to clean up their PFAS contamination by listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly referred to as CERCLA or Superfund.

Last year, Congressman Dan Kildee and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick created a bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force to more urgently address the public health threat of PFAS contamination.

“Every American deserves to know that their drinking water is safe and that the community they live in is safe from chemical contamination,” Kildee said in a statement.

In December, the EPA sent proposed regulatory determination for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. The action will provide proposed determinations for at least five contaminants listed on the fourth Contaminant Candidate List (CCL4), including PFOA and PFOS, in compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.

On November 22, 2019, EPA announced availability of $4.8 million in funding for new research on managing PFAS in agriculture.

Related Professional Development Course

Learn more about contaminated sites and remediation, including Brownfields, from expert speakers by attending the CANECT course “Brownfields and Excess Soils” on May 12, 2020 in Vaughan, Ontario. Click here to see course details and speaker information.

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