| U.S. Senate targets PFAS
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U.S. Senate targets PFAS

With a myriad of states taking immediate actions to address per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) and rising concern among legislators, regulators and consumers, the U.S. Senate this week crafted bipartisan legislation to establish national guidelines.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) sent a joint letter to key Senate leaders seeking opportunities to work with the Senate in refining the legislation as it moves forward. The letter noted the bipartisan efforts to produce the bill, but also expressed concern that the proposed legislation could set an adverse precedent by preempting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) statutory process for setting standards.

The bill would mandate that EPA set a national drinking water regulation for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) within two years of AWWA's Tracy Mehan at Senate hearing.enactment. It would also establish a procedure for EPA to begin consideration of additional testing methods and potential regulation of additional PFAS compounds in the future.

The June 18 letter was sent to Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Tom Carper (D-DE), the chair and ranking member respectively, on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (Pictured, AWWA's Tracy Mehan, right, Sen. John Barrasso) 

The bill will likely be attached to defense authorization legislation now moving through the Senate, or it could be considered as a stand-alone bill. The former action is more likely.

“Ultimately our organizations believe the consistent, science-based regulatory process of SDWA is the best approach for EPA’s consideration and development of a drinking water regulation for any contaminant,” stated the letter, signed by Tracy Mehan, AWWA’s executive director of government affairs, and Diane VanDe Hei, AMWA’s chief executive officer.

“We believe that any departure from this established process for a particular contaminant of family of contaminants should be minimized and designed in such a way as to avoid placing excessive burdens on EPA while maintaining public transparency,” the letter continued.

AWWA has not taken a formal position on the proposed legislation.

The bill would also provide for EPA to set a lifetime health advisory level after the agency finalizes a toxicity value for PFAS compounds and validates effective quality control and testing procedures. It would increase monitoring requirements for PFAS compounds under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.

EPA released a PFAS Action Plan in February 2019 indicating the agency would establish a drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) during 2019, but the uncertain timeline and outcome, along with mounting public pressure, have led to independent state actions.

Last month, Mehan testified on the matter before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, as well as the House Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change, stressing the importance of source water protection, scientific process and continuing research in confronting the challenge of PFAS in drinking water.

Regarding this week’s Senate actions, Mehan said, “We recognize the political realities, but AWWA and AMWA continue to put their faith in a science-based, data-driven, risk-focused process as set out in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“This is the best way to protect public health without directing precious resources away from higher risks requiring major investments,” he added.  “You do not know the answer until you work through the process.”

PFAS are resistant to water and heat, and are used in clothing, furniture, cookware and many other consumer products, as well as in firefighting foam and the manufacture of plastic and rubber. There are more than 3,000 known PFAS chemicals, and their detection in drinking water supplies and soil is raising concern about potential health effects.  

More information is available on the PFAS resource page on AWWA’s website.