On Thursday, July 11, 2019, the House of Representatives approved amendments to the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to address contamination from PFAS chemicals.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals are colloquially known as “forever” chemicals due to their ability to build up and to persist over time. PFAS chemicals regulated under this bill have long been used to manufacture a wide range of products, like firefighting foam, cookware, stain repellents, apparel and food packaging and wrappers.

The House conducted a hearing in March regarding certain bills aimed at examining approaches to eliminate or reduce environmental and health risks associated with the chemicals. The package of amendments added by the House to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020, include:

  • Phase out of military use of PFAS in firefighting foam by 2025.
  • Prohibit the use of PFAS in military food packaging.
  • Expand water quality monitoring for PFAS under the Clean Water Act.
  • Provide additional $5 million for Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s study of PFAS.
  • Require the Government Accountability Office to study PFAS contamination around military bases
  • Require incineration of military PFAS wastes in a way that prevents them from escaping into the air.
  • Authorize $5 million for a five-year study by the US Geological Survey to monitor PFAS contamination nationwide.

Other PFAS-related provisions already included in the House’s defense authorization bill include:

  • A provision that allows the National Guard to gain access to environmental remediation funds.
  • More than $121 million in dedicated environmental remediation funding to address PFAS-contaminated drinking water near military installations.
  • A provision to fund blood tests for military firefighters to check for PFAS exposure.
  • A prohibition on the use of fluorinated firefighting foams in training exercises on military installations.

On June 27, 2019, the United States Senate passed legislation with bipartisan support to regulate PFAS as a rider to the 2020 defense spending bill. The PFAS amendment included the requirement to report all air and water discharges of PFOA and PFOS by way of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986’s Toxic Release Inventory. The amendment would also direct EPA to decide whether to add several additional specific PFAS to the Inventory within two years. Finally, the legislation would require the EPA to establish safe drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, public water utilities would need to begin testing their respective potable water supplies for PFAS contamination.

Following the House vote, the House and Senate will have to reach consensus on a final bill to send to President Donald Trump. The White House, however, has threatened to veto the House’s defense spending bill. Among other things, the Trump administration objects to the provision requiring the military to clean up agricultural water sources contaminated with PFAS and to the phase out of the military’s use of firefighting foam containing PFAS by 2025. The Administration is concerned that the military may not have a viable alternative to effectively extinguish petroleum-based fires.