March 20, 2019

Warren Joins Shaheen, Hassan in Letter to DOD & EPA 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, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), along with a group of fifteen Senators, in sending a letter to 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 senators’ letter 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.
“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,” the senators wrote in their letter. “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.”
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. However, media reports suggest that the DOD opposes groundwater cleanup guidelines recommended by the EPA, and instead suggested 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.
The letter was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Responding to PFAS contaminants in Massachusetts communities and others across the country has been a top priority for Senator Warren:

  • In March 2019, Senator Warren joined Senator Carper (D-Del.) as a cosponsor of the PFAS Action Act of 2019.

  • In February 2019, Senator Warren joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in sending a letter to EPA Acting Director Andrew Wheeler, expressing concern about reports that the agency will not establish enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS as part of its National PFAS Management Plan.

  • The senator also joined a bipartisan letter in December 2018 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, requesting that the agencies take additional steps to ensure that the health effects of occupational exposure to PFAS, particularly in firefighters, are sufficiently studied.

  • In August 2018, Senator Warren filed two amendments to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to improve data collection and research conducted on health and occupational safety concerns facing firefighters, police officers and other first responders in the Commonwealth. 

  • She also joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in cosponsoring an amendment to the 2019 Defense Appropriations bill allowing for some funds to be used by the Air National Guard to reimburse state local water authorities for remediation of PFAS.