On Feb. 14, the EPA announced an action plan to set a nationwide drinking water standard for two chemicals used in nonstick coating and firefighting foam, going against earlier reports that it would instead let states set their own standards. The two chemicals at issue here are PFOA and PFOS, which are two members of a broader family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

However, while EPA said it will begin the process of establishing these water standards by the end of 2019, it could ultimately be years before water utilities across the country will have to start the costly process of monitoring and filtering the chemicals out.  But the fact that EPA is even launching this process goes against earlier reports out of EPA, where officials indicated they were leaning against a nationwide drinking water standard due to the wide variability of groundwater contamination levels in different parts of the country.

In addition to announcing it would begin pursuing a nationwide water standard for these two chemicals, the EPA will also list them as hazardous substances, which means the companies that produced them may have to bear the costs of cleaning them out of soil and water and there may be additional costs and impacts to wastewater utilities that manage biosolids.  WEF is working with other organizations to evaluate these impacts and provide input to EPA

PFAS contamination is especially high near many airports and Air Force bases, where the chemicals are in foams used to rapidly extinguish fires on runways. 

Many members of Congress have not been receptive of the action plan so far.

The EPA’s new plan for tackling a family of ubiquitous chemicals contaminating drinking water across the country lacks teeth, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said, explaining the EPA needs to take a more “decisive action” to address the contaminants. 

Barrasso said his committee will hold hearings on the EPA’s plan this spring.

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) also called the EPA plan “insufficiently protective” in a statement.  (Bloomberg BNA, 2/14/19)

Click here to view EPA's action plan.

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This Week in Washington is an online news portal from the Water Environment Federation that provides updates on the latest legislative and regulatory developments that affect the water and wastewater communities. It provides concise reports of related bills, regulations, legal decisions, congressional hearings, and other federal government actions, following key issues from introduction to final determination.

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This Week in Washington is compiled by the WEF Government Affairs department. Please contact us with any questions or comments.

Claudio Ternieden
Senior Director of Government Affairs & Strategic Partnerships

Steve Dye
Legislative Director

Amy Kathman
Government Affairs Specialist