03.25.19

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Pressing for Answers on Reports of Efforts to Weaken Contamination Standards for PFAS

Letter Comes in Response to Media Reports that DOD is Pushing for Weaker Cleanup Guidelines for PFAS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined her colleagues in pressing Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, requesting the agencies to release communications they’ve had with the White House, and with each other, regarding the establishment of federal drinking water standards for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and groundwater pollution guidelines related to these chemicals.

The letter, led by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), comes in response to recent media reports that the Department Of Defense (DOD) is requesting the White House to adopt substantially weaker guidelines for groundwater pollution caused by PFAS than those suggested by the EPA.

Senator Baldwin has been taking action to establish enforceable drinking water standards and ensure Wisconsin has clean drinking water.

The Senators wrote, “If this reporting is accurate, the DOD’s actions may endanger the health of servicemembers and families who live and work near the 401 military installations where there are known or suspected releases of PFAS chemicals in the drinking water or groundwater. We urge you to act in the best interests of impacted communities and support efforts to develop groundwater and drinking water standards that will protect the public from the health hazards associated with PFAS contamination.”

In their letter, the Senators continued, “As you are aware, PFAS materials are a byproduct of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant agent used at military installations, and have been associated with a variety of adverse human health effects, including birth defects and immune system dysfunction. Given the significant public health concerns related to these chemicals, immediate action must be taken to reduce exposure to PFAS and address any potential negative health effects contamination from these materials may have on our communities.”

The Senators go on to highlight the EPA’s recently released PFAS management plan, which commits the agency to developing interim groundwater cleanup recommendations that will assist state and federal agencies in protecting drinking water supplies contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two PFAS chemicals contained in formulations of AFFF. This commitment is contradicted by media reports that suggest the DOD opposes groundwater cleanup guidelines recommended by the EPA, and instead suggest that remedial action for PFOA and PFOS not occur unless the concentration levels of these chemicals exceed 400 parts per trillion or higher – nearly six times higher than the EPA’s lifetime health advisory for these chemicals.

The Senators underscore the significant risk to impacted communities posed by these extreme contamination levels and the limited number of sites eligible for cleanup and remediation. They close their letter by requesting that the DOD and EPA provide communication between the agencies and White House on efforts to set enforceable drinking water standards and groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFAS chemicals, and that they provide a joint briefing to their offices on interagency efforts on this issue.

Their letter is available here. It was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Gary Peters (D-MI).