A bill that would require the EPA to regulate PFAS, an emerging family of chemicals contaminating U.S. municipal and private water supplies, is slated to be the first major legislation that the House will take up in 2020.
The House expects to begin considering a bill Jan. 9 (H.R.535) that would push the Environmental Protection Agency to create nationwide protective measures against poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, and could vote on passage Jan. 10, according to an aide to House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced the bill last January. At that time, the bill only would have required the EPA to declare PFAS hazardous substances under Superfund law, giving the agency a year to do so. After a House Energy and Commerce Committee review, 11 other pieces of legislation were wrapped into the bill.
The additions include a mandate for the EPA to set a limit for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, and directs the agency to write guidance minimizing the use of firefighting foam that contains PFAS.
Lawmakers are required to submit amendments for the bill by 10 a.m. Jan. 7, a House Rules committee aide said. That would likely be followed by committee consideration later that day. The committee would then decide how the bill will be debated on the House floor, and which amendments will be voted on.
The legislation faces a more uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate, where lawmakers are expected to spend the early part of the year on President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
Mike Danylak, spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Republican majority, noted the Senate already passed legislation to address PFAS contamination through defense funding authorization and government funding bills in 2019.
“President Trump just signed the bipartisan Senate PFAS package, minus the drinking water provisions the House Democrats killed, into law. Whatever the House is now planning to do on PFAS, it has little to do with making law,” Danylak said in an email.
Family of Chemicals
PFAS are a family of thousands of man-made chemicals often used in nonstick and waterproof consumer goods. Because PFAS resist breaking down inthe environment, they are driving local and state governments to invest in cleanup and write new guidelines limiting the substances.
In 2019, the EPA indicated it would designate PFOA and PFOS, two substances in the PFAS family, as hazardous substances under Superfund law, but has not yet done so.
“Aggressively addressing PFAS will continue to be an EPA priority in 2020 and we will provide additional information on our upcoming actions as it becomes available,” an EPA spokesperson said in an email.
The House pushed for significant PFAS provisions in the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, but many of the provisions were weakened or dropped in negotiations with the Senate weeks before Trump signed the measure Dec. 20. But the defense bill did include some PFAS measures, including barring the use of firefighting foam at military installations after Oct. 1, 2024 with an exception for ships.
It also directed the EPA to include certain PFAS chemicals in its Toxics Release Inventory, which reports on chemical releases.
PFAS can cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancers, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.
H.R. 535 includes the following provisions, among others:
- The EPA shall designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under Superfund law, and has five years to determine whether all PFAS should have the same designation.
- The EPA shall create, at minimum, standards for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water within two years. This section of the bill would also set a deadline for EPA to consider regulating additional PFAS or classes of PFAS in drinking water.
- Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA shall create a program to award grants to communities with water supplies contaminated by PFAS. The funds should be used to pay for implementing water treatment technologies. The EPA must also determine which treatment technologies effectively remove all detectable PFAS from drinking water.
- The EPA shall list PFAS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
- State revolving loan funds for emerging contaminants in drinking water should focus on addressing PFAS.
- The EPA shall require companies that manufacture or process PFAS to submit data that would help the agency evaluate the substances’ environmental and health risks.
- PFAS with notices filed under the Toxic Substances Control Act may be prohibited if the EPA determines they present health or environmental risks.
- The EPA shall require companies that have manufactured PFAS at any point since 2011 to submit a report to the agency.