WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), released the following statement on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft interim guidance for addressing groundwater contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and/or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), two specific per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.
“After languishing in interagency review for months, the draft guidance finally released by EPA fails to adequately protect public health from this emerging crisis,” Senator Carper said. “Administrator Wheeler himself said that safe drinking water is the greatest environmental challenge facing our world, yet, again, we see that EPA is not addressing this issue in the manner in which it demands, nor with the urgency in which Americans deserve.”
This guidance does not include an “emergency” removal level of PFAS that will trigger the provision of bottled water or other urgent measures to protect the public, meaning that people drinking water contaminated at levels well in excess of 70 ppt may not be entitled to safe drinking water during the months or years cleanup could take to complete. It also means that there is no assurance that EPA will step in in cases where no responsible party exists to address ‘emergency’ levels of contamination.
This guidance also fails to provide the clarity that DOD has agreed to take action to clean up sites that are contaminated at levels between 70-380 ppt, a commitment DOD had previously objected to making.
And, while the second paragraph of the guidance says that it applies to “groundwater that is a current or potential source of drinking water,” the second page states that, “In situations where groundwater is being used for drinking water, EPA expects that responsible parties will address levels of PFOA and/or PFOS over 70 ppt.” This indicates that it is possible that polluters will not be required to clean up groundwater that States have designated as a future source of drinking water that is not yet being used as such.
Background on Senator Carper’s recent work on PFOA and PFOS
Senator Carper announced in February that he had secured an EPA commitment to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS. 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, 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).
Senator Carper authored and introduced the PFAS Action Plan of 2019, which would mandate EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law.
In April, Senator Carper joined Bob Casey (D –Pa.) for a roundtable with local officials and community leaders to learn about the community’s struggle with widespread groundwater PFAS contamination.