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Congress Passes PFAS Legislation

Tuesday, December 17, 2019, the Senate passed legislation to address exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; S. 1790), which already passed the House, includes legislation to improve the monitoring of exposure to PFAS, develop standards for safely destroying PFAS foam and equipment, and begin to regulate exposure to PFAS. President Trump is expected to sign this legislation.

PFAS are a collection of manufactured chemicals with strong fluorine-carbon bonds, which makes them basically indestructible. They have been used in Teflon, the lining of firefighter personal protective equipment, and aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). There is a concern that firefighters’ exposure to PFAS may lead to cancer and problems with the thyroid and immune systems.
The NDAA contained the following provisions:

Department of Defense

  • The Defense Logistics Agency shall ensure that military Meals Ready-To-Eat (MRE) do not come into contact with PFAS or packaging containing PFAS. 
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) shall incinerate PFAS foam and gear in accordance with the Clean Air Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and other federal regulations.
  • DOD is directed to share PFAS monitoring info with surrounding municipalities and maintain a public website with a clearinghouse of information about PFAS exposure of members of the Armed Forces and their families.
  • DOD is directed to enter into cooperative agreements with states (at the governors’ requests) to test, monitor, remove and remediate PFAS contaminated drinking, surface or ground water.
  • Beginning on October 1, 2020, the Secretary of Defense will begin testing military firefighters for PFAS exposure during their annual physicals.

Environmental Protection Agency

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shall include PFAS on the list of unregulated contaminants to be monitored under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • The EPA shall set rules for monitoring public water systems for PFAS contamination.
  • The bill will allow the use of State Revolving Funds for addressing PFAS and other emerging contaminants.
  • PFAS is added to the Toxic Release Inventory and releases over 100 pounds of PFAS must be reported.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey is directed to set a performance standard for the detection of PFAS. The agency is supposed to do a nationwide sampling of lakes, streams, wells, wetlands, and soil for PFAS.
  • The EPA Administrator shall review federal efforts to identify, monitor and assist in the treatment of PFAS; assist the states in responding to the health risks concerning PFAS; and work with the owners of public water systems and the states to develop a strategic plan for improving federal efforts.
  • This bill also directs the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish an interagency group to coordinate federal efforts to identify and analyze the public health effects of PFAS contamination of drinking water. 
  • A new National Emerging Contaminant Research Initiative will be developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • By January 1, 2023, EPA shall promulgate a rule to require PFAS manufacturers since 2011 to provide information about their PFAS production.
  • By June 22, 2020, EPA is directed to take final action on a proposed “Long-Chain Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylate and Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate Chemical Substances; Significant New Use Rule.”
  • Within one year, EPA is directed to develop interim guidance for the destruction and disposal of PFAS substances, including firefighting foam and gear.
  • The EPA is directed to will develop a PFAS research program to examine and report on issues, including human exposure, toxicity, remediation, etc.

The IAFC also has endorsed two bills being considered in the Senate to develop educational resources for the fire and emergency service about reducing PFAS contamination and to test firefighter personal protective equipment for PFAS.

The IAFC has a PFAS resource page that we urge members to consult for resources.
Ken LaSala is the IAFC’s Director of Government Relations and Policy.

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