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“Clean water advocates in Pennsylvania are welcoming proposed new federal legislation to curb the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water and the wider environment.
State environmental groups said two bills introduced in the U.S. Senate last week would help identify where drinking water is contaminated by the chemicals – which have been linked to illnesses including cancer, high cholesterol and development problems in children – and would improve coordination between state and federal authorities in cleaning them up.
The bills, introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), would provide more public funds for detection by the U.S. Geological Service, and require the federal government to work with state regulators to clean up PFAS chemicals from in and around military bases, where high concentrations have been found.
The PFAS Accountability Act of 2018 would direct federal officials to cooperate with a state if its governor requests help in testing, monitoring or removing the chemicals from a current or former federal facility.
The PFAS Detection Act of 2018 would provide $45 million over five years for the USGS to conduct a nationwide survey of PFAS and report its findings to Congress, federal agencies and state regulators…
In May, the Environmental Protection Agency began a nationwide tour of affected sites such as the Horsham/Warrington area of southeast Pennsylvania, where public and private water systems have seen high levels of PFAS chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS because of the fire-fighting foams once used in nearby military bases.
The chemicals’ presence in local water systems around Horsham is now well below the EPA’s health-advisory limits because of local government investment in carbon filters, which remove the chemicals from drinking water.
The EPA, under fire from clean-water advocates for lacking an enforceable health standard on the chemicals, also held a national summit on the issue at which former Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would look into whether to regulate the chemicals.
Environmental groups welcomed Pruitt’s statement but said any new regulations on so-called Maximum Contaminant Limits for the chemicals would take years to implement even if they were agreed to by an aggressively pro-market EPA.
The new legislation, if adopted, could offer a faster way of protecting public health from the chemicals, advocates said. It would also begin to establish national standards for a class of chemicals that is mostly regulated by states such as New Jersey and Vermont, both of which have set stricter standards than those advocated, but not required, by the federal government…
‘Both of these bills could be helpful in identifying where PFCs are located in the environment and drinking water,’ said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network. ‘If the result is the setting of a mandatory standard for drinking water … it would provide needed protection for the public.’
In complying with any national standard, states must be allowed to set their own regulations based on local conditions such as PFAS concentrations, the length of time that the contamination has existed, and the danger of pollution migrating, Carluccio said.
She argued for enforceable limits at the state level, rather than just health advisories on PFAS concentrations in drinking water, as currently issued by the EPA.
Carluccio, a longtime advocate for tighter limits on PFAS chemicals in drinking water, welcomed the plan to have the USGS do a systematic assessment of the problem.
‘We need a comprehensive investigation by an agency such as USGS to locate [PFAS chemicals] so the extent of the contamination problem is understood, prompting the action that is critically needed to get these pollutants out of people’s drinking water,’ she said.
Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, called the bills ‘one piece of the puzzle.’ While the USGS proposal represents a straightforward increase in its work on PFAS, the plan for more cooperation between state and federal governments is less clear, he said.
Still, he said the federal government can play an important role in helping states manage PFAS by providing expertise and analytical capability that states often don’t have. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, for example, has been limited by years of budget cuts.
‘Having the capacity of the federal government can be very helpful,’ he said.
Environmental Working Group, which advocates for tighter PFAS curbs, welcomed the bills and said they could help to fill a vacuum in federal leadership on the issue.”