Politics

House Passes Bill to Address PFAS Contamination, Regulate Drinking Water Standard

The House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address PFAS contamination in a number of ways, including designating the chemicals as “hazardous substances” and introducing a national drinking water standard for PFAS.

PFAS is an acronym for man-made chemicals called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances known for their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat. They are used in a wide range of products including stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpets, as well as cleaning products, paints, water repellents, and fire-fighting foams.

The bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535), which passed the House 247-159, would require the EPA to list perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—two of the chemicals in the PFAS family—as “hazardous substances” within one year.

In doing so, as per the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA, also known as Superfund), sites contaminated with PFAS would be eligible to have federal resources clean the sites up through the EPAs Superfund program.

H.R. 535 would also require the agency to decide whether to designate all PFAS substances as hazardous within five years.

Among other effects, the bill would also require the EPA to enforce a drinking water standard within two years for at least PFOA and PFOS. The agency in 2016 issued a health advisory for the two PFAS substances of 70 parts per trillion, however no measures are currently in place to enforce this standard, and public water systems are currently not required to test for PFAS.

The bill would also ban the manufacture or sale of PFAS chemicals that the EPA finds as posing “an unreasonable risk of injury” to human health or the environment.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a statement (pdf) on Tuesday, Jan. 7, saying that “the administration strongly opposes passage of H.R. 535,” and that if the bill was presented to President Donald Trump, “his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

“This bill would supersede existing statutory requirements that require EPA, when regulating chemicals in the environment, to evaluate and weigh the available scientific and technical information about the occurrence of exposures, the health effects of exposures, the treatment options available, the opportunities for meaningful improvement in public health protection, and the significant potential effects on public safety,” the statement read.

The OMB added that the bill would, therefore, “create considerable litigation risk, set problematic and unreasonable rulemaking timelines and precedents,” and impose “substantial, unwarranted” costs on governmental agencies.

House Republicans of the Energy and Commerce Committee released a statement on Thursday, saying that H.R. 535 “is not the solution” to PFASs potential challenges to public health and the environment.

“This purely partisan, anti-science regulatory framework is unworkable … There is a path ahead; we have broad, bipartisan, commonsense solutions—that relies on sound science—to address the countrys PFAS challenges,” the statement read.

There are close to 5,000 types of PFAS, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees certain uses of PFAS including in cookware, food packaging, and food processing.

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