Senate bills demand EPA action on PFAS

As the EPA prepares its PFAS management plan that may lead to the establishment of a Maximum Contaminant Level for the two main PFAS, two Senate bills that address the issue are in play that may require the EPA to act.

Last year, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill that would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and require the EPA to establish MCLs for PFOA and PFOS chemicals, and later in the year, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen introduced a bipartisan bill with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman to improve federal efforts to identify the public health effects of PFAS and other contaminants.

Gillibrand’s bill that was co-sponsored by New York Sen. Charles Schumer was introduced March 2, 2017, and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The bill will require the EPA to establish a MCL for the two PFAS within two years of passage.

“We’ve seen very clearly how much damage can happen to our local drinking water supplies when toxic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS aren’t monitored by the EPA,” Gillibrand said. “My legislation would require the EPA to come up with strong and enforceable safety standards for these toxins, so that no other community has to experience what Hoosick Falls has gone through over the last year.”

Hoosick Falls, New York, was contaminated by chemicals from a Saint-Gobain plant, like Merrimack, and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan supports the bill.

“No one should have to question the safety of their drinking water, and this legislation is an important step forward in our efforts to protect against water contamination,” Hassan said. “By requiring the EPA to create federal safety guidelines for these PFAS chemicals, including a maximum contaminant level, this legislation would help clarify the safety and quality of drinking water in New Hampshire and across the country.”

New Hampshire’s other senator, Jeanne Shaheen, took matters into her own hands by introducing another piece of legislation that will direct the EPA to take action on PFAS by creating a program that will provide technical assistance to communities that detect contaminants in their water supplies.

“My bipartisan legislation, the Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act, will improve federal efforts to identify the health impacts of unregulated contaminants found in our drinking water sources, such as PFAS,” Shaheen said, “and address barriers that limit the EPA’s response to these materials.”

The bill doesn’t require the EPA to establish MCLs for the major contaminants, but will lead up to it by accelerating the process through measures that direct the EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to improve federal efforts to identify and respond to emerging contaminants.

Whether either bill will pass is dependent on the actions of a Republican-led Congress.

Gillibrand’s bill has a three percent chance of passage, according to Skopos Labs, a high-tech research firm.

“It has a zero chance of the Republican Senate advancing it this year,” said Dan Harnett, the chief officer for legislative and regulatory affairs at the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. “It is a departure of the regulatory process in the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

“If President Trump is serious about providing ‘crystal clear, clean drinking water’ to all Americans, he should leap at the chance to sign this legislation,”

said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of the Environmental Working Group. “Congress can and must take action to reduce the public’s exposure and it can start by passing this legislation.”

Congressional passage of the bill “will supersede the EPA’s regulatory efforts and mandate it to set MCLs within two years,” Harnett said.

Meanwhile, Shaheen thinks her legislation may pass with bipartisan support.

“My bipartisan legislation will improve federal efforts to identify the health impacts of unregulated contaminants found in our drinking water sources, and I will continue working across the aisle to ensure that our governmental agencies protect public health in New Hampshire,” she said.

When asked for comments on the legislation, Molly Block, an EPA spokesperson, said, “We don’t take positions on legislation.”