Senate Amendment on PFAS Could Put Pressure on EPA

According to The Hill, a group of bipartisan senators filed an amendment as part of the annual defense policy bill on Thursday, June 13, in response to the growing concern about water contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The article notes that this amendment could put pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to speed up its timeline to set a drinking water standard for PFAS. To this point the EPA has only established “health advisory levels” for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion lifetime exposure from drinking water.

The amendment was filed by three senators from West Virginia, Wyoming and Delaware (two Republicans and one Democrat). The Environmental Working Group notes that the amendment would PFAS to the list of contaminants tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey and require public utilities to test for PFAS. It would also require the military to stop using firefighting foams containing PFAS by 2023, and set a deadline for the EPA to develop a drinking water cleanup standard.

PFAS have been a top drinking-water contaminant concern this year. A recent study found PFAS contamination in water systems of 43 of 50 states. While the EPA released a PFAS action plan earlier this year, the agency’s decision not to set a drinking water standard has led many states to take matters into their own hands. Pennsylvania recently started testing water for PFAS. Vermont has announced plans to begin widespread PFAS sampling. New Hampshire has even taken the bold step of filing a lawsuit over PFAS contamination.

Meanwhile, experts are still working to understand the dangers posed by PFAS exposure. The Intercept recently reported that Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, said some data suggests the safety threshold for PFOA in drinking water should potentially be 700 times lower than the current EPA healthy advisory level.