Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Murkowski, Sullivan support tougher PFAS standards

Both of Alaska’s U.S senators have voiced support for an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would advise the Environmental Protection Agency to step up its PFAS contaminant testing and treatment standards.

PFAS, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a category of human-made chemicals that repel water and grease and are found in products such as nonstick pans and raincoats. Much of the contamination in Alaska is caused by firefighting foams used at airports and fire training sites. PFAS are known as emerging contaminants, chemicals known to cause sickness in animals, but their exact health effects on humans aren’t well understood.

The amendment, proposed by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Tom Carper, D-Del. and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., would: add PFAS to the list of contaminants tracked by a national water-quality monitoring network run by the U.S. Geological Survey and require drinking-water utilities to test for PFAS chemicals; require manufacturers to report, through the Toxic Release Inventory, air and water discharges of many PFAS chemicals; set a deadline for the EPA to develop a drinking water cleanup standard for water utilities and create a federal task force to address the threats posed by contaminants such as PFAS; and would direct the EPA to finalize a rule that limits new PFAS uses, provides funding to states for PFAS water treatment infrastructure and requires EPA guidance on PFAS disposal.

When asked about the amendment, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman said the senator supports the measure being included in the NDAA and encourages additional attention to the group of contaminants.

“Senator Murkowski is alarmed that communities across the state, including Gustavus, Yakutat, North Pole and so many others, are at risk of exposure to these hazardous substances,” Hannah Ray, spokeswoman for Murkowski, wrote in an email to the Daily News-Miner. “She has been working hard to ensure that the public health and safety risks of PFAS are addressed—including legislation she recently introduced, the Protecting Military Firefighters from PFAS Act, which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act base bill currently before the Senate.”

In December, Murkowski and New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a joint letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, urging the agencies to study health impacts of PFAS contaminants on firefighters exposed to the substances.

Murkowski is also a co-sponsor of the PFAS Action Act, a bill that would require the EPA to list PFAS as hazardous substances that qualify for federal funds to aid cleanup through the EPA Superfund Law. The bill would allow the EPA to target parties responsible in the contamination for cleanup costs.

“Senator Sullivan has been working with his colleagues on the Environment & Public Works Committee over the course of several hearings to reach agreement on bipartisan legislation directing the EPA and other agencies to provide standards, funding assistance, monitoring and greater transparency to communities affected by PFAS contamination,” Mike Anderson, spokesman for Sullivan, wrote in an email to the Daily News-Miner.

Anderson also said that Sullivan voted in favor of similar legislation that was passed out of the EPW committee earlier this month.

“The senator hopes that this effort will be a first step toward providing sorely needed funding and assistance to communities in Alaska, and across the nation, that are impacted by PFAS chemicals,” Anderson wrote.

A decision announced in March by the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected draft regulations for when a polluter would have to clean up the same four chemicals. But the state went even further last month by reversing a testing policy already in practice within the state. In an April 9 memo, the DEC described the policy as an effort to align Alaska with pending federal standards, but ultimately the new policy allows the state to restrict toxics testing to only two of the most heavily studied types of these chemicals: PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid).

Jason Brune, Alaska DEC commissioner, defended the choice in testimony to the House Resources Committee earlier this month, stating that “following the lead of the EPA was incredibly important.”

When asked about the possible shift of national EPA regulations, Brune said Alaska would follow the agency’s lead if the changes went into effect.

“PFAS is a complex issue that affects the entire nation. DEC, similar to most states, is looking to the EPA for leadership on PFAS contamination and amendments such as these are worthy of consideration,” Brune stated in an email to the Daily News-Miner. “Assuming passage of this bill, the State of Alaska, as with all states, would then be required to comply with federal law.”

By:  Erin McGroarty
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner