Conferees negotiating a compromise version of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill added language requiring the Defense Department to outline its plans for cleaning up on- and off-base drinking water supplies contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) after the Environmental Protection Agency establishes a regulatory standard for that class of chemicals. Within six months after EPA sets legally enforceable limits — or maximum contaminant levels — for PFAS exposure under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the department would be required to submit a report to Congress containing a plan to:
- assess any contamination at DOD installations and surrounding communities stemming from the department’s past use of agents containing PFAS;
- identify any remediation actions it plans to carry out using the maximum contaminant level established by EPA;
- provide an estimate of the cost and a schedule for completing planned cleanup activities; and
- provide an assessment of past expenditures by local water authorities to address contamination before EPA established a maximum contaminant level, and an estimate of the cost to reimburse communities that performed cleanups to a level that did not exceed the new EPA standard.
EPA has begun investigating the possibility of setting legally enforceable limits for PFOA and PFOS exposure as one of the steps it is taking to respond to nationwide concern over the presence of PFAS in water supplies. The agency, though, has not said how long it will take to set exposure limits for those chemicals, assuming the process reaches that point. At the Defense Communities National Summit in June, Jennifer McLain, acting deputy director of EPA’s office of ground water and drinking water, said there is no established timeline under the Safe Drinking Water Act for completing the regulatory determination process. The agency has started the preliminary phase of the process and officials still are discussing a possible timeframe, she said at the time.
That effort is critical as a regulatory standard for the chemicals is needed for the Pentagon to implement appropriate cleanup actions.
The same provision of the conference report to the authorization bill, section 315, also directs the department to transfer funds to the Health and Human Services Department to conduct a study of the effects of PFAS exposure to humans.
The Senate will vote to adopt the conference report Thursday, according to a statement Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) made on the chamber floor on Tuesday.