WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 5, 2019) – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are urging Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to develop federal drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as part of the agency’s national management plan for this class of chemicals. In a bipartisan letter to Wheeler, the Senators also request that the EPA provide briefings on the agency’s efforts on this issue, as well as regular updates on the progress of those efforts. The Senators’ letter comes in response to a report that the agency does not plan to establish enforceable drinking water standards for the chemicals, which have been linked to a variety of adverse health implications.
In New Mexico, the Air Force has confirmed that firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals used around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base has contaminated nearby groundwater. Several agricultural wells nearby Cannon have been contaminated, causing major disruptions for the local dairy industry, and the extent of impacts near Holloman is still being determined. Udall and Heinrich are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Force to coordinate closely with the state of New Mexico to ensure New Mexico’s water supplies are safe and protected, to safeguard public health, and to fully compensate all affected New Mexicans.
The Senators wrote, “As you are aware, PFAS chemicals have emerged as a widespread contaminant in drinking water sources in several communities across the nation. While the risks associated with PFAS exposure are still being uncovered, studies have linked these unregulated emerging contaminants to a number of adverse health effects. On May 19, 2016, the EPA established lifetime health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS. These health advisories, however, are non-enforceable and deprive states of much-needed federal guidance on how to determine and implement effective drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS chemicals.”
The letter goes on to explain that in the absence of federal standards, states have been forced to establish their own drinking water regulations for PFAS. The lack of coordination among states has led to a patchwork of conflicting drinking water standards and guidelines across nine states, which have varying maximum contaminant levels and have raised concerns in impacted communities that are questioning whether their regulations are sufficient.
In their letter, the Senators continued, “Without enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, it is doubtful that a national management strategy will sufficiently confront the challenges PFAS chemicals pose to states and affected communities. This decision would also fail to consider ongoing interagency efforts to determine the human health implications of contamination from PFAS, including the nationwide study being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).”
In closing, the Senators called on the EPA to commit to developing federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, to provide briefings to the Senators’ offices on the agency’s efforts on this issue and to deliver regular updates on the agency’s progress.
A copy of the letter is available here.