Infrastructure Bill Contains $10B to Clean Up Water Contaminants From Toxic Firefighter Foam
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed last week, which is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden sometime today, will include $10 billion in funding designated to clean up toxic water contamination from “forever chemicals” used in firefighter foams and other products, as well as replacing old lead pipes.
Touted as the largest federal investment in water infrastructure in history, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684, will allocate money to states and tribes through grant programs. Some of the money will be used to clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminating drinking water supplies, while some will be used to remove aging water pipes that may leach lead into many communities’ drinking water.
PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since then the chemicals have been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
The chemical substances are used to manufacture a number of products, including some food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. However, it is perhaps most known for its use in firefighting through the use of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) used by military and civilian firefighters.
Due to their widespread use on military bases and by firefighters, PFAS have been found contaminating a large number of drinking water sources throughout the U.S., leaving many states trying to figure out how to remove it and make their water supplies safer.
The infrastructure bill offers three different grant programs that states can access in order to begin cleanup operations. This including a $5 billion grant program through the Safe Drinking Water Act, specifically for small and disadvantaged communities, who do not have to provide matching funds. There is also a $4 billion grant program through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and a $1 billion program through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
Today’s expected signing of the bill comes just days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will require manufacturers of 20 different PFAS compounds to provide the agency with data on their potential health effects before the end of the year. The announcement came after the EPA released a strategic roadmap to dealing with PFAS problems in mid-October.
EPA officials say the funds will also allow more studies into the health effects and science of PFAS chemicals, and help the agency develop more stringent PFAS regulations.
The infrastructure bill comes as several states and lawmakers are pushing to ban, restrict and monitor PFAS. In July, Maine put in place a ban on PFAS which will go into effect by 2030. In addition to Maine, New York set guidelines in January which set limits on allowable concentrations on some PFAS chemicals. Additionally, also in July, two U.S. Senators introduced a bill which would ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics.
Chemical manufacturers now face a growing number of firefighting foam lawsuits brought by nationwide, including individuals diagnosed with with cancer after exposure to the chemicals in their drinking water, as well as firefighters directly exposed during training and response exercises.
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