HORSHAM, Pa. – Today, miles from the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station, where firefighting foam containing per- and polyflouroalkyl subtances (PFAS) chemicals seeped into the groundwater, contaminating wells and water systems in surrounding communities, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), joined Bob Casey (D –Pa.) for a roundtable with local officials and community leaders to learn more about the slow pace with which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Defense (DOD) have responded to the area’s widespread groundwater PFAS contamination.
“This administration is proposing to cut EPA’s budget and reduce its manpower by almost a third. We need to ensure that EPA has the resources it needs to handle this growing national challenge, but we also need to understand that addressing PFAS contamination is not just a money matter. It’s not esoteric. Today’s roundtable was a sobering reminder that this is an issue about people who are suffering and will continue to suffer without urgency from this administration,” Senator Carper said. “I have introduced legislation that would address this challenge head-on. The PFAS Action Act already has more than thirty cosponsors, and the list is growing. This bipartisan bill would mandate EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the Superfund law, and it would also require polluters undertake or pay for immediate remediation.
“In the meantime, Congress needs to continue conducting consistent and persistent oversight on the administration, especially EPA and the Department of Defense, and impart a strong sense of urgency. In the Navy, when we face a tough problem and need to call for emergency response, we say ‘all hands on deck.’ In Horsham, Pennsylvania, in Dover, Delaware, and in every community facing this public health problem, we need all hands on deck.”
At a press conference following the roundtable, Senator Casey announced he is cosponsoring Senator Carper’s PFAS Action Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in March that would classify PFAS as a hazardous substance, making it eligible for cleanup funding under Section 102 of CERCLA, EPA’s Superfund law. The bill would also require polluters to pay or undertake remediation.
Senator Carper announced in February that he had secured an EPA commitment to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, two specific PFAS chemicals. This announcement came on the heels of the Senator’s consistent pressure on EPA throughout then-Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation process in the face of an on-going failure of EPA to set that standard.
In March, Senator Carper and three other Senate committee ranking members requested documents from EPA, DOD, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) related to the interagency review of EPA’s February 2019 “PFAS Action Plan.”
Later that month, after Senator Carper’s EPW staff learned that the Department of Defense may be pressuring EPA to weaken the stringency of PFAS groundwater cleanup guidelines to 400 parts per trillion (ppt), Senator Carper encouraged EPA to resist pressure from other agencies and to finalize PFAS groundwater cleanup guidance at the drinking water Lifetime Advisory Limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt).