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Persistent Pollutants

PFAS targeted for US regulation by House of Representatives

Bill would establish cleanup liability, require military to switch to fluorine-free firefighting foams

by Cheryl Hogue
July 19, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 29

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Credit: Shutterstock
PFAS would be barred from packaging used for US military meals ready to eat under legislation passed by the House of Representatives.

Widely used, environmentally persistent per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are targeted for regulation in legislation that the US House of Representatives passed earlier this month. A handful of PFAS are linked to health problems, while the toxicity of thousands of others has not been studied in depth, if at all.

The provisions on PFAS are a part of a bill (H.R. 2500) to authorize military spending in 2020. The legislation would require the US Environmental Protection Agency to declare PFAS to be hazardous substances. This would make the military and companies that have released these chemicals into the environment liable for cleanup of PFAS-contaminated water and soil.

The bill would also direct the EPA to set limits for PFAS in wastewater discharged by factories and sewage treatment plants.

Meanwhile, the bill would impose restrictions on the military’s use of PFAS. Like its companion measure (S. 1507) that the Senate passed in June, H.R. 2500 would require the military to phase out the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams and switch to fluorine-free formulations. The House bill specifies that this take place by 2025, 2 years later than the Senate version.

In addition, the measure would bar the use of PFAS in the packaging of field rations known as meals ready to eat. And it would require the Department of Defense to dispose of PFAS-containing materials, including firefighting foam, via incineration that emits neither PFAS nor toxic hydrogen fluoride into the air.

The White House issued a veto threat for H.R. 2500, listing more than 40 provisions it objects to, including 2 on PFAS.

In the coming weeks, the House and Senate are expected to work out the differences between their versions of the legislation in preparation for final passage.

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