Battle against ‘forever chemicals’ is gaining ground, group says

Recent government actions are putting the nation in a better position in the fight against PFAS and PFOA chemicals, environmental activists said Monday.

The issue has been relevant to Dayton, where two local cities have initiated lawsuits against the government and manufacturers over contamination of the substances, per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals. The chemicals are slow to break down and have been widely used in a variety of products, due to non-stick properties.

The city of Fairborn this summer sued 32 chemical manufacturers for allegedly contaminating one of the city’s back-up wells with the chemicals. And in the spring of 2021, the city of Dayton filed a $300 million lawsuit against Wright-Patterson Air Force Base over alleged water contamination.

Until recently, there were “virtually no limits” on PFAS substances mandated in national standards, said Scott Faber, who leads government affairs work at the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

“While we have a long way to go, the Biden administration has chartered a course” that will reduce national exposure to PFAS chemicals, Faber said in an online press conference Monday.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August proposed to designate two of the most widely used PFAS chemicals as “hazardous” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.”

The designation could put polluting businesses and organizations on the hook for cleaning contamination, according to supporters.

“Many agencies have taken important steps to address PFAS, but there is much more work to do,” said John Reeder, vice president of federal affairs at the Environmental Working Group and a veteran of the EPA.

In the next few weeks, Reeder said he expects the Department of Defense to produce its own remediation plan on the chemicals for “hundreds of sites.”

Reeder also praised a congressional mandate of the DOD to avoid the procurement of products with the chemicals.

“It’s a rather limited authority, but it’s an excellent move in the right direction,” he said.

The federal government as a whole procures about $600 billion of goods and services every year, he said. Steering those purchases away from products containing PFAS “can send a very important signal to the market.”

Wright-Patterson environmental engineers have worked to account for the presence of PFAS and PFOA chemicals under and around the base.

Firefighting foam containing the chemicals has been used in the base in the past, but a base spokeswoman has said that the Air Force in recent years has replaced legacy firefighting foam in emergency vehicles and hangar fire prevention systems with a formula that meets EPA guidelines.

Early next year, the Pentagon is expected to release specifications for a PFAS-free replacement of the firefighting foam. By next October all new foam the military buys must meet those specs, Bloomberg News has reported.

Last year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law prohibiting the use of PFAS-containing foam in firefighter training.

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