Federal Government Considers PFAS Protections

October 22, 2019

Drake Skaggs

States like Washington and New Hampshire have been leading the way to address the crisis around PFAS or “forever chemicals” associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, and other health risks. Now, for the first time, there is hope that Congress will also act to protect communities.  

If adopted, amendments to the national military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would curtail the military’s use of firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals and provide assistance to states in identifying sources of and cleaning up these dangerous chemicals. The use of PFAS in firefighting foam is a major source of drinking water contamination, and the Environmental Working Group reports many contaminated sites near military bases. At least 1 in 20 Americans’ drinking water is contaminated.  

While the Federal government has been slow to act on these “forever chemicals”, states have been leading the way adopting progressive reforms to phase out their use and mandate testing for contaminated water supplies. Just this year, Colorado and New Hampshire banned the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams, California added requirements for public water systems to monitor for PFAS, Maine prohibited the sale of food packaging containing PFAS, and Vermont adopted a requirement for Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

It makes sense for states to act to address PFAS chemicals: they have been bearing the brunt of cleanup costs. Those responsible for contamination, namely manufacturers of PFAS and major users, such as the military, have paid comparatively little. Some provisions proposed in the NDAA aim to alleviate that, including adding PFAS to the Federal Superfund Law, which would allow the EPA to sue manufactures to pay for clean-up.

We are thrilled that states have been demonstrating, once again, why they are at the forefront of protecting communities from toxic chemicals, but the Federal government can and must play a major role in tackling the PFAS mess. Adopting all the PFAS provisions in the NDAA would be an excellent place to start.