October 06, 2021

Gillibrand Presses EPA To Strengthen Its Draft Plan To Address PFAS Discharges From Industry

Experts Estimate Nearly 30,000 Industrial Sites Could Be Discharging PFAS Into The Environment, Including Drinking Water Sources; EPA’s Preliminary Plan Excludes Seven out of Nine Industry Categories Making PFAS Pollution Crisis Worse; Gillibrand and Colleagues Seek Expanded List and Deadlines to Establish Standards for PFAS Polluters

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for the passage of her Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act of 2021 and is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expand and strengthen regulatory efforts to address industrial PFAS discharges. In September, the EPA released the Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which outlines a proposed roadmap to regulate some industrial discharges of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to issue a biannual plan that announces the status of the agency’s efforts related to national standards for wastewater discharged into surface waters. However, the draft Preliminary Plan 15 excludes most of the industry categories that are exacerbating the PFAS pollution crisis - including paper manufacturing plants like the Saint-Gobain Honeywell plant that polluted the waters in Hoosick Falls - and fails to set deadlines for new standards.

PFAS are a group of thousands of manufactured chemicals that can seep into drinking water supplies and have contaminated communities in New York and across the country. These toxic chemicals have been linked to cancers and other serious health and developmental effects.

“There is overwhelming evidence that PFAS chemicals are highly toxic to human health and Congress has been working diligently to regulate these harmful chemicals. While the draft plan EPA released last month is a positive first step, it unfortunately leaves out a majority of the industries that are exacerbating the PFAS pollution crisis,” said Senator Gillibrand.I’m eager to work with the EPA to hold polluters accountable and develop clear standards for all measurable PFAS. As the EPA works on its final plan, I encourage the agency to be as ambitious as my Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act of 2021, which would require the EPA to establish effluent limitations guidelines and pretreatment standards for manufacturers in the 9 industry categories that are polluting the environment and public health the most.” 

As the EPA reviews and finalizes its plan in the coming weeks, Senator Gillibrand is leading her Senate colleagues in a letter to EPA Administrator Regan calling on the agency to commit to creating a roadmap that expands the industry category list from two to the nine outlined by Congress in Gillibrand’s bill, and to set deadlines for when the agency plans to set these standards. The letter will also call for the PFAS Roadmap to include an immediate designation for PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, accelerate efforts to strengthen drinking water and groundwater cleanup standards, address ongoing industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, and ensure that PFAS waste is properly disposed of.  

Gillibrand’s Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act of 2021 would regulate PFAS chemicals under the Clean Water Act by requiring the creation of new effluent limitations guidelines and pretreatment standards for sources that discharge PFAS chemicals into our waterways, and authorize federal funding to assist Publicly Owned Treatment Works with the implementation of those guidelines and standards. The bill includes 9 priority industry categories to expand on what EPA is currently doing. These priority industry categories include:

  • Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers (OCPSF);
  • Pulp, paper, and paperboard;
  • Textile mills;
  • Electroplating;
  • Metal finishing;
  • Leather tanning and finishing;
  • Paint formulating;
  • Electrical and electrical components;
  • Plastics molding and forming

Water quality criteria are numerical criteria developed by the EPA for determining when water becomes unsafe to human health. The EPA has previously developed water quality criteria for 94 chemical pollutants but not for PFAS. Similar legislation has passed the House twice on a bipartisan basis.

Gillibrand has a longstanding record of strengthening transparency and regulatory standards for PFAS emissions. In June of this year, Gillibrand successfully implemented her provision requiring the EPA to identify and publicly share the sources of PFAS emissions. It required that 172 PFAS be added to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a centralized database that requires polluters to publicly report when chemicals are released into the environment. Gillibrand also successfully secured $10 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure package to address PFAS, including funding for a Gillibrand provision that was included in the Senate-passed Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (DWWIA) earlier this year.

In addition to Senator Gillibrand, the letter was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Merkeley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ben Ray Lujàn (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Read the full text of the letter here.