WASHINGTON, DC – This week, the U.S. Senate approved a national defense bill coauthored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) that will help strengthen and modernize our military and include needed reforms in multiple areas.  Reed included provisions in the bill to address the risks and challenges associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been linked to a variety of cancers, weakened immunity, and other serious health problems. 

The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would dramatically expand efforts to monitor the scope and presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – substances in a group known as PFAS – in our nation’s drinking water.  The bill adds PFAS to the list of contaminants tracked by a national water quality monitoring network run by the U.S. Geological Survey and requires public drinking water utilities to test for PFAS chemicals.  The bill also addresses pollution for many communities who are struggling with these toxic chemicals in their drinking water by requiring industrial manufacturers and users to disclose to the public when they release these chemicals into the environment through a “Toxic Release Inventory.”  It would also require the Trump administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set, within two years, a national primary drinking water regulation on PFOS and PFOA.

“The NDAA will enhance our national security, and I’m also pleased that it will provide these important protections for public health,” said Senator Reed.  “PFAS pollution is a problem in communities nationwide and this bill will go a long way toward helping us understand the scope of the contamination and to better address it, all while holding polluters more accountable.  We must act on a bipartisan basis to ensure families have access to clean, safe drinking water.  While the Trump Administration has dragged its feet on PFAS, Congress is taking bipartisan action through the NDAA to ensure the safety of our communities.”

Elevated levels of PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals manufactured since the 1950s that are often found in non-stick, waterproof, and stain resistant products, have been found in many states nationwide, including Rhode Island. 

Senator Reed also helped to include other measures in the NDAA to reduce the threat of these harmful chemicals, and worked to ensure that the bill would:

  • Continue an ongoing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of human health effects on PFAS in drinking water through 2021 and add $10 million to help fund the study.
  • Continue to fund research and development for non-fluorine firefighting foam and require at least $5 million to be spent on such efforts.
  • Ban the use and procurement of PFAS-based firefighting foam in three years, with an exception for ships and submarines.
  • Require the National Guard to have access and authority to the Department of Defense’s Defense Environmental Restoration Accounts (DERA) for PFAS remediation.
  • Provide authority for the Department of Defense to treat PFAS-contaminated waters meant for agricultural purposes, including authority to buy contiguous property if it is contaminated with PFAS.

Senator Reed has worked for years to address the toxic scope of PFAS.  Last March, he joined Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in introducing legislation that would mandate the EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, as well as enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.

Last February, after the Trump Administration signaled it will fail to impose enforceable federal drinking water limits on two toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other health and environmental threats, Senator Reed joined a bipartisan group of 20 of his Senate colleagues in urging the EPA to take action.