Press Release

As Trump Administration Drags Its Feet On Implementing New Law That Would Help End The Use Of Dangerous Pfas Chemicals At Airports Across New York And The Country, Gillibrand Calls For Immediate Implementation Of Law That Would Finally Allow Airports To Stop Using Toxic Chemicals That Poison Local Waterways

Dec 4, 2018

Washington, DC – As the Trump Administration drags its feet on implementing a new law that would help end the use of dangerous PFAS chemicals at airports across New York and the country, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called for the immediate implementation of the new law that would finally allow airports to stop using these toxic chemicals that poison local waterways. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a toxic group of chemicals that are the primary ingredient in firefighting foams used at airports across New York. PFAS can seep into groundwater, contaminating the drinking water supplies for nearby communities. These dangerous chemicals are linked to cancer and other serious health problems, and the continued use of PFAS at airports poses a serious health risk to neighboring communities.

“Access to clean water is a fundamental right that every New Yorker should have, and we need to do everything we can to get PFAS out of our water supply,” said Senator Gillibrand. “One of the biggest reasons this chemical keeps leaking into our water is because it’s one of the main ingredients used in the firefighting foams at airports. This was an arbitrary regulation, and I fought to pass a law that allows airports to use firefighting foams without PFAS. We have a responsibility to ensure our airports are not poisoning the water in our communities, and I’m calling on the Trump Administration to immediately implement this law and protect our communities from these dangerous chemicals.”

Prior to the FAA Authorization this year, commercial airports were required to use PFAS in firefighting foams. Airports frequently use firefighting foam for drills and training exercises. Gillibrand successfully fought to pass a new law as a part of FAA Authorization that eliminated this requirement. Although this law passed two months ago, the FAA still has not implemented the new regulations. Gillibrand will call on the FAA to act immediately to end any potential contamination of local waterways near airports.

Gillibrand is specifically calling on the FAA to immediately do the following:

  • Make all commercial airports in the United States aware of this change in requirements for firefighting foam;
  • Provide specific actions that the FAA plans to take to complete the switch to PFAS-free foam and a proposed timeline for each action;
  • Prohibit the use of PFAS-containing foam for training purposes; and
  • End the annual requirement to test firefighting foams containing PFAS by directly spraying on them onto the ground.

The use of fluorinated chemicals in firefighting foams has directly resulted in PFAS exposure in the environment. Once released into the environment, these chemicals are resistant to degradation and cleanup efforts are is costly and difficult. According to a study the Environmental Working Group conducted, as many as 110 million Americans are drinking water supplies contaminated by PFAS, and according to the Green Science Policy Institute, 75 percent of PFAS contamination sites are likely related to firefighting foam use. Many large airports around the world have started using alternative, fluorine-free replacements. The FAA Reauthorization bill allows airports in the United States to finally use alternative, industry-accepted firefighting foam.

The full text of Gillibrand’s letter can be found here and below:

December 4, 2018

The Honorable Dan Elwell

Acting Administrator

Federal Aviation Administration

800 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20591

Administrator Elwell,

I am writing regarding the implementation of Section 332 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (P.L. No. 115-254) to remove the requirement that commercial airports use firefighting foam containing highly toxic fluorinated compounds, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The continued use of firefighting foams containing PFAS at airports poses an urgent health risk to neighboring communities, and the FAA must act to fully implement Section 332 swiftly. Currently, there are PFAS-free foams being used safely and effectively in other countries and the FAA should act to bring the U.S. in line with other parts of the world.

As an author of this legislation, I am concerned that any delay in implementation will continue to exacerbate the potential contamination of ground and drinking water supplies by PFAS, seriously endangering human health in communities near airports. Furthermore, this contamination is creating millions of dollars of environmental liability for more than 500 FAA certified airports, hurting the financial standing of this critical public infrastructure. Therefore, I am requesting timely action on this newly passed legislation.

PFAS are a class of toxic chemicals affecting communities across the nation that have been linked to certain cancers, thyroid disease, reproductive problems, decreased immune function in children, and other serious adverse health effects. Due to their rigorous chemical properties that make them persistent in the environment, resistant to degradation, and prone to bioaccumulation, these compounds are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’ According to a study the Environmental Working Group conducted, as many as 110 million Americans are drinking water supplies contaminated by PFAS, making this a national crisis that deserves the utmost attention.

Commercial airports are beholden to requirements that their firefighting foam “shall consist of fluorocarbon surfactants,” meaning they must contain PFAS. According to a 2017 report by the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), managed by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies and sponsored by the FAA, 90 percent of airports conduct tests of their firefighting foam systems at least once per year. Of those, 69 percent discharge the foam to the ground without containment. Similarly, 64 percent of airports have performed firefighter training using foams containing fluorinated compounds. Of those, 79 percent discharged fluorinated foam onto the ground. As such, use of fluorinated foam in testing and training continues to result in release of PFAS to the environment. In fact, about 75 percent of PFAS contamination sites listed on Northeastern University’s PFAS Contamination tracker are likely related to firefighting foam use, according to an analysis by the Green Science Policy Institute.

While we continue to learn more about PFAS, the science is showing that these chemicals are more, not less, harmful to human. PFAS contamination has afflicted communities throughout the U.S., and it will continue to do so unless we work actively and diligently to stop it. The FAA must work expeditiously to properly address this urgent public health threatso that it does not continue to spread. While the legislation says that you have up to three years to change your regulations, I urge you to act expeditiously in order to end the contamination of America’s water systems with this toxic chemical. Therefore, I request that FAA:

  • Provide us with specific actions FAA plans to take to complete the switch to PFAS-free foam and a proposed timeline for each action;
  • Make all commercial airports in the U.S. aware of this change in requirements for firefighting foam immediately;
  • Immediately prohibit the use of PFAS-containing foam for training purposes; and
  • Immediately suspend the requirement to calibrate aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment annually by spraying PFAS-containing foam on the ground to demonstrate application rates, or approve equipment that would allow in-system demonstrations of application concentrations that is designed to contain PFAS during annual calibration testing.

I look forward to working with the FAA on this important issue.


Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator