A Second Bite at the PFAS: House of Representatives Passes PFAS Action Act of 2021; Similar to Act Passed in 2020

Recently, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill—the PFAS Action Act of 2021—that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin regulating perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water.

The legislation would require the EPA to establish a national drinking water standard within two years for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroactanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—the two most scrutinized PFAS chemicals. Currently, the EPA has a voluntary guidance level of 70 parts per trillion for both PFOA and PFOS combined.

The bill requires designation—not later than one year after the enactment of the Act—of PFOA and its salts and PFOS and its salts as hazardous substances under section 102(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This would hasten and force clean-up of any known contaminated sites. The bill also permits the designation of all other PFAS chemicals—within five years of the enactment of the Act—as hazardous substances under CERCLA.

The legislation calls for discharge limits on industrial releases of PFAS, and $200 million would be provided annually for wastewater treatment. Moreover, within six months of the enactment of the Act, PFOA and PFOS would be designated as hazardous air pollutants, and the EPA would be required to determine whether to list other PFAS within five years.

Lastly, the legislation would prohibit unsafe incineration of PFAS wastes, place a moratorium on the introduction of new PFAS into commerce, require “comprehensive PFAS health testing,” and create a “voluntary label for PFAS in cookware.”

Sponsors of the bill—from both major political parties—argue that the “PFAS Action Act is a sweeping and comprehensive legislative package which has strong bipartisan support to address the PFAS crisis in the United States…Setting drinking water standards and designating PFAS as hazardous substances under the EPA’s Superfund program will accelerate the clean-up process in communities and at military facilities all across this nation.”

Previously in January 2020, the U.S. House of Representative passed a similar PFAS Action Act by a vote of 247-159, which failed to gain traction in the Senate. In February 2019, the EPA announced a nationwide PFAS Action Plan, similarly referred to as the “most comprehensive action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the agency.” We’ll continue to follow developments on this topic.