Associations endorse bill to hold PFAS polluters liable for cleanup

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Five water sector associations representing drinking and clean water utility systems submitted a letter to Congress last week in support of the “Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act.” The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate and aims to hold polluters accountable for Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.). The “Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act” preserves the “polluter pays” principle for cleanups of PFAS under CERCLA by protecting drinking water and wastewater systems from cleanup liability when they properly dispose of water treatment byproducts containing PFAS.

The associations that endorsed the legislation are part of the Water Coalition Against PFAS: The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA); American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

AMWA said without passage of the legislation, the originators of PFAS pollution could attempt to redirect environmental cleanup costs to water systems that played no role in introducing the chemicals into the environment.

“CERCLA is intended to hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause to our environment. But in the case of PFAS, the law could allow those responsible for producing the chemicals to pass off cleanup liability to community water systems that must remove the contaminants from their source waters,” said AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins. “AMWA supports the “Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act” because it would close this loophole and ensure that polluters – and not innocent water system ratepayers – get the bill for CERCLA cleanups related to PFAS. We urge all senators to support this ‘polluter pays’ legislation.”

In August 2022, EPA announced plans to designate two of the most common PFAS — Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) — as hazardous substances under CERCLA. If finalized, this designation could put drinking and clean water utilities at risk of incurring cleanup costs even when they have taken the proper steps to remove and dispose. Wastewater and stormwater utilities could be at risk because they receive PFAS chemicals through the raw influent that arrives at the treatment plan or through municipal stormwater runoff.

In a press release, AMWA explained that while EPA has announced an “enforcement discretion” policy that intends to focus on polluters that are responsible for the contamination and have profited from PFAS, such a policy will be insufficient. AMWA said congressional action is needed to ensure ratepayers will be permanently protected from CERCLA legal defense costs and cleanup liability.

The members of the Water Coalition Against PFAS said they look forward to working with members of Congress to build support for the “PFAS Water Systems Liability Protection Act.”

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