March 8, 2019

More Congressional Scrutiny of the Federal Government’s PFAS Efforts

Holland & Knight Energy and Natural Resources Blog
Dianne R. Phillips

On March 6, 2019, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Environmental Subcommittee held a hearing entitled "Examining PFAS Chemicals and Their Risks." The purpose of the hearing was to examine (1) the health effects associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure, (2) efforts by the Department of Defense (DoD) to minimize exposure in and around military communities, and (3) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently released action plan regarding these substances. Two members of Congress, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Daniel Kildee (D-MI), spoke about the impact of PFAS contamination from DoD facilities in their districts. They are leading a bipartisan task force to address PFAS contamination. In his opening remarks, Chairman Harley Rouda (D-CA) spoke about the urgency to address over 400 confirmed PFAS releases at DoD facilities stating that the DoD has known about the risks of PFAS contamination since the early1980s.

This latest hearing proceeded the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment's hearing held Sept. 6, 2018 entitled "Perfluorinated Chemicals in the Environment: An Update on the Response to Contamination and Challenges Presented." During that hearing (video and transcript) Ranking Member Pallone (D-NJ) called for a binding, enforceable and strong drinking water standard for PFAS while then-Chairman Shimkus (R-IL) stated the hearing was about "starting the dialogue on PFAS" and "taking stock of what the government knows about PFAS, what efforts to contain its contamination have promise, and what is preventing people from being helped with cleanup or avoid contamination of their air, soil and water."

Representatives from both the EPA and the DoD spoke at both hearings. Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, provided written testimony at both the Sept. 6, 2018 hearing and the March 6, 2019 hearing describing DoD's efforts with respect to PFAS. Specifically, DoD completed testing of all of its 524 drinking water systems worldwide in 2016 and identified 24 DoD drinking water systems with PFOA and PFOS above the EPA lifetime health advisory (LHA) of 70 parts per trillion. In addition, DoD identified 12 additional drinking water systems from which it purchases water also above the LHA. These statistics do not include the DoD facilities which have caused contamination to surrounding communities drinking water, whether public or private, which have been the focus of many efforts around the country.

Other members of Congress have proposed legislation to address PFAS concerns and some are hoping for the "next blue wave" as described in The Hill. Only time will tell whether Congress can jumpstart EPA and DOD, but hearings may be the place to start.

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