Congress mulls wide menu of options for addressing contamination under NDAA
President Trump has said his administration “strongly objects” to a provision under consideration in a major military funding bill to replace the use of fluorinated foams in military firefighting.
The provision is one of a number listed in ten pages of concerns that have caused the White House to threaten to veto the National Defense Authorisation Act, which sets policies and funding levels for US defence spending.
The controversy comes as the ubiquity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances in the environment has become an issue of increasing – and bipartisan – prominence in the US, with legislators on both sides of the aisle scrambling for solutions.
A version of the NDAA currently under consideration in the House of Representatives (HR 2500) contains a provision to prohibit the Department of Defense’s use of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) at military installations from 2029, with allowance for waivers in certain cases.
It also would require the DOD to publish a military specification for a fluorine-free foam by 2025, in order to guarantee that foam is available for use by 2027.
But in a 9 July Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) memorandum, the president objected to this timeline (see box).
“DOD continues to pursue aggressively a fluorine-free foam, which must be equivalent in fire-fighting performance and workforce safety as the military specifications,” Mr Trump wrote. “DOD has concerns, however, about meeting the 2025 military specification deadline and the feasibility of waiver requirements.”
The president also protested against a provision of the NDAA that would give the DOD authority to treat water sources or provide replacement water for agricultural properties where the water source has been contaminated due to military activities with two largely abandoned PFASs, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Data compiled by NGOs shows that a significant portion of the country’s PFAS contamination appears linked to the military’s historical use of fluorinated firefighting foams. But Mr Trump took issue that “the legislation singles out DOD, only one contributor to this national issue.”
PFASs in the spotlight
Provisions around PFASs are just a small element of the NDAA – a massive piece of legislation that authorises more than $700bn in funding – but there has been considerable bipartisan focus on the substances as negotiations continue.
Beyond the provisions highlighted in the president’s memo, the legislature is also considering amendments that would:
- direct the EPA to issue a data call for PFAS manufacturers under section 8 of TSCA to obtain information about what chemicals were historically manufactured and sold;
- end the use of the substances in military food packaging;
- require the EPA to finalise its 2015 proposed TSCA significant new use rule (Snur) on long-chain PFASs;
- provide funding for research, require new monitoring and sampling, and ensure better interagency coordination on the chemicals;
- set a national primary drinking water regulation, limit discharges into water, and accelerate cleanup for the substances;
- require PFASs to be designated as hazardous substances under the Superfund programme; and
- direct the EPA to issue guidance on how to dispose of and destroy them.
The efforts have been met with broad support from environmental and consumer advocates, as well as farmers who have been negatively impacted by PFAS contamination in water.
Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) told Chemical Watch it “supports a comprehensive approach with clear timelines for managing specific substances, including measures to prioritise, evaluate, regulate, innovate, monitor and advance best practices.”
The group, however, expressed concern that several elements of the legislation, already passed by the Senate, are “problematic from precedent-setting, process and practical standpoints.”
Before the NDAA is sent to President Trump’s desk, the House will need to pass the legislation and differences between the two chambers’ versions must be ironed out.
AFFF phase-out timeline
In both chambers of Congress, the fluorinated foam phase-out has seen support from both sides of the aisle on the need for alternatives.
The Senate’s version of the bill (S 1790) – passed on 27 June with overwhelming bipartisan support – gives the phase-out of fluorinated AFFFs a shorter timeline than the House’s current draft:
- after 1 October 2022, the DOD would be prohibited from using its funds “to procure firefighting foam that contains in excess of one part per billion of [PFASs]”; and
- a year later, the department would need to cease the use of PFAS-containing AFFF and dispose of nearly all existing stocks.
Meanwhile, this week the House is considering changes to its own version, such as an amendment to shorten the AFFF phase-out timeline to more closely mirror the Senate’s version.
Several US states also have passed legislation to ban or restrict the products’ use for firefighting.
“Everyone agrees we should end the use of fluorinated foams,” the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber told Chemical Watch. “The only question is when.”
*Original article online at https://chemicalwatch.com/79649/trump-objects-to-pfas-foam-restrictions-threatens-to-veto-spending-bill