Frustrated local leaders urge Congress to move faster on regulating PFAS

WASHINGTON—Local officials and community leaders on Wednesday pushed Congress to designate toxic chemicals that are contaminating drinking water as hazardous materials, which would trigger federal cleanup standards.

In addition, two Democratic senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, introduced legislation that would put additional obligations on the Pentagon to initiate cleanup at military bases.

The chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, can be found in drinking water, soil and air across the country, and are a growing concern.

PFAS are commonly used in commercial products such as nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, pizza boxes.

The chemicals were also found in firefighting foam used by the Department of Defense and many airports.

Joanne Stanton, the co-founder of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water in Pennsylvania, told the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee that the drinking water and soil in Warminster has been contaminated with PFAS from the firefighting foam used by the Department of Defense at nearby Air Force bases.

“The DOD is one of the largest polluters (of PFAS) in our country,” she said in her opening statement. “It’s ironic that the very entity whose job it is to protect the American people ended up giving a lot of Americans cancer and other diseases because of their irresponsibility in handling toxic chemicals.”

Stanton and James Kenney, the cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, told senators they need to classify PFAS as a hazardous substance. That would spark the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or the Superfund law, to start cleanup of the chemicals at military sites.

“The environmental impacts and economic impacts are real for our state,” Kenney said, adding that contamination threatens the state’s nearly $3 billion agriculture industry as well as its tourism.

New Mexico is suing the Defense Department over PFAS contamination that has spread to several farms.

Kenney also recommended a federal drinking water standard for the chemicals, as there is currently a patchwork of state standards for PFAS.

Only a handful of states have either adopted or proposed maximum contaminant levels for PFAS, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina. Read more

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