Twenty-Two AGs Urge Congress to Address Immediate Legislative Needs in Response to PFAS Crisis

Attorneys general intensify call for “hazardous substance” designation under CERCLA, urge rapid phase-out of PFAS firefighting foam at federal facilities.

Coalition letter also calls for nationwide sampling program, medical screenings, and heightened focus on environmental justice concerns.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 30, 2019
Contact: Christopher Gray
Christopher.Gray@nyu.edu
(929)-333-6213

Washington, D.C. — New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in sending a letter urging Congress to immediately address the most urgent legislative priorities related to the nationwide per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination crisis.

“When it comes to the health and safety of New Yorkers, inaction isn’t an option,” said Attorney General James. “These toxic ‘forever’ chemicals endanger the wellbeing of people across our state, and we need federal legislation to address the threat. We strongly urge Congress to take action and give our states the tools we urgently need to address the harms these dangerous chemicals cause to our communities.” The attorneys general increased pressure on Congress to require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (the Superfund law), and to direct the agency to add “the entire class of PFAS” to its Toxic Release Inventory. The coalition also called for a “nationwide sampling effort and survey of human and environmental exposure” conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The coalition urged Congress to “[p]rohibit the use and storage” of firefighting foam containing PFAS at all military sites and other federal facilities “as quickly as possible,” and to “immediately require protective measures when firefighting foam is used.” The attorneys general emphasized the particular threat posed by aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), and noted that some jurisdictions “have been forced to spend tens of millions of dollars” to provide clean drinking water and filtration systems to vulnerable communities near military bases where AFFF is used.

In their letter, the attorneys general highlighted the staggering costs that their jurisdictions are incurring as they investigate, mitigate and remediate PFAS contamination — costs that will continue to mount as such efforts expand. The attorneys general requested federal funding for the cleanup of public water systems “with a focus on environmental justice and other disadvantaged communities,” and warned that in the absence of federal assistance many systems will be forced to raise consumers’ water rates to recoup cleanup costs, which would “present serious water affordability issues.”

“States are facing significant challenges and incurring enormous costs as they discover more and more communities that have been contaminated by PFAS chemicals,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “Congress has a number of tools at its disposal to assist states in their ongoing efforts to address the PFAS crisis including, in particular, the designation of specific PFAS chemicals as ‘hazardous substances’ under the federal Superfund law to facilitate cleanups by the Department of Defense and other responsible parties.”

The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin joined New York in sending the letter.

BACKGROUND

PFAS are a family of long-lived, bioaccumulative chemicals that have been widely used in consumer products, including fire-retardant foam, textiles and non-stick cookware, since at least the 1950s. PFAS chemicals can cause reproductive, developmental, liver and kidney damage and have been linked to cancer. The chemicals are often found in drinking water supplies at levels that are unsafe. Information about pending federal legislation to address PFAS contamination is available here.

In April 2019, the EPA released its draft interim recommendations to address groundwater contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). The guidance provides interim recommendations for screening levels and preliminary remediation goals to inform final cleanup levels for PFOA and PFOS contamination of groundwater that is a source of drinking water.

In June 2019, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum in filing comments on the EPA’s draft interim recommendations, warning that the suggested screening levels and remediation goals are insufficiently stringent and should not be restricted to PFOA and PFOS. The attorneys general also called on the EPA to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

ABOUT THE STATE ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT CENTER
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit our website.