Federal Spending Package Includes Incremental Progress On PFAS Concerns

Dec 30, 2019
Originally published on December 30, 2019 9:39 pm

Federal officials have earmarked more than $250 million to address concerns related to PFAS chemical contamination. The money was set aside as part of a spending package approved by Congress earlier this month, but it’s unclear what impact the dollars will have locally.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said it’s not a sure bet Connecticut will get any of the federal PFAS money.

“We will be fighting for money to come to Connecticut,” Blumenthal said. “The eligibility criteria have not yet been set; they will be. We think Connecticut ought to be eligible for some of this money.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of hazardous chemicals linked to bad health effects, including liver and developmental problems. These so-called “forever chemicals” persist in the environment and have contaminated hundreds of military bases around the country after PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foams got into nearby water and soil.

The federal spending package aims to fight this problem, including spending on remediation, state grants, and possible safe drinking water standards, Blumenthal said.

In Connecticut, two recent accidents at Bradley International Airport caused PFAS chemicals to get into the environment. 

In June, an accident at a private aircraft hangar sent thousands of gallons of PFAS-filled firefighting foam into the Farmington River.

Just a few months later, a World War II-era B-17 crashed at Bradley, killing seven people. Firefighting foams containing PFAS were used after that crash, and firefighters credited the foam with saving lives. But some of the foam washed into nearby water and soil, setting off a new round of questions about possible health and environmental effects.

The Federal Aviation Administration mandates the use of PFAS-filled firefighting foam to combat fires resulting from emergencies like the B-17 crash. But in November, the FAA told Connecticut Public Radio it is also working to begin phasing out that type of firefighting foam at commercial airports by October 2021. 

Blumenthal said the spending package recently approved by Congress contains no language to add PFAS compounds to the federally recognized list of toxic substances. But it does include $3 million for the EPA to investigate setting a mandated “safe water” drinking limit for the chemicals. 

The EPA continues to review the compounds and is considering setting drinking water standards for PFAS, but there is no federal standard regulating PFAS concentrations under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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