Press Release

In Rochester, Gillibrand Calls For $20 Million In Federal Funding To Regulate Industrial PFAS Pollution

Jun 7, 2024

Water Sources Around The Country – Including Lake Ontario – Are Contaminated With Dangerous And Carcinogenic PFAS

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a press conference at the Monroe County Water Authority Shoremont Water Treatment Plant to call for $20 million in federal funding to regulate industrial discharges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS chemicals are widespread contaminants found in a variety of consumer products, various industrial applications, and firefighting foam. They cause an array of health problems, including developmental effects, changes in liver, immune system, and thyroid function and increased risk of some cancers. Although tap water in Rochester is safe and free of contaminants, almost half the tap water in the United States contains PFAS, including about 50% of New York’s public water systems. 

The wastewater discharges of certain industries, particularly those who make or use PFAS, have been and continue to be significant sources of PFAS pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to address these discharges using its Clean Water Act authorities, and the agency is currently in the process of establishing the first regulations to finally address industrial discharges and stem the flow of PFAS into our waters and communities. The $20 million Gillibrand is requesting be included in the FY2025 appropriations bill would allow the EPA to accelerate and complete its work to establish these regulations, stopping PFAS before they are released into our environment.

While the Monroe County Water Authority has done commendable work keeping Rochester’s water supply free of PFAS, communities across New York continue to deal with these toxic chemicals their water supplies,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It’s unacceptable, and polluters must be held accountable. The EPA agrees with me and has been working over the last few years to develop the first national regulations to address industrial PFAS discharges. However, the agency’s progress has been slowed down by a continual lack of resources, which is why I’m calling for $20 million in dedicated funding to be included in next year’s budget to help the EPA finally address PFAS at its source and get these dangerous chemicals out of our waterways for good.” 

Access to safe, clean water is at the core of public health. Taking steps to combat PFAS contamination at the source will have an enormous impact on water treatment processes and subsequent long-term health effects across the country,said Nick Noce, Executive Director of the Monroe County Water Authority.While we are fortunate that our primary water source, Lake Ontario, tests below current federal and New York State regulatory levels for PFAS, we understand the urgency of addressing this important topic for communities across the nation. We applaud Senator Gillibrand’s commitment to protecting nature’s most precious resource and building the foundation for a healthier future.

The environment that we live in is the key to having a healthy future. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her work to draw increased funding and attention to the important issue of PFAS contamination and believe by working together we can improve public health and realize a better future,said Dr. B. Paige Lawrence, the Wright Family Research Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester.The University of Rochester, with its recently established Lake Ontario Center for Microplastics and Human Health and decades of leadership in environmental health research, is at the epicenter of efforts to study the lifecycle of microplastics, including their origins as plastic waste, distribution and movement in the Great Lakes, impacts on human health. Our research also focuses on how PFAS affect health, including how they impact the immune system. With increased resources, the EPA can better regulate and limit PFAS contamination in our environment and reduce their negative impacts on public health.

Investing in clean water guidelines and resources to ensure our waterways are free from toxic, harmful chemicals is critical to the health and safety of our community,said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.Monroe County is grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s advocacy and her commitment to creating policies that invest in the necessary infrastructure to reduce harmful substances in our nation’s waterways.

PFAS chemicals pose a risk to human health. These per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of chemicals that resist breaking down, they will persist indefinitely in the environment and continue to accumulate unless we act,said Monroe County Legislator Susan Hughes-Smith.Setting limits on the discharge of these materials from polluting industries is an essential step. The EPA must use the Clean Water Act provisions and accelerate the implementation of effluent limitation guidelines. I am grateful Senator Gillibrand is calling for funding dedicated to this purpose.

“As your County Legislator and Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I fully support Senator Gillibrand’s bipartisan efforts to secure increased funding to tackle PFAS contamination and protect our waterways. Monroe County’s proactive measures showcase our dedication to effectively addressing this issue, proudly setting an example for other regions. Ensuring our water is free from toxic chemicals is vital for the health and safety of not only our community but all communities across the State of New York. I extend my gratitude to the Monroe County Water Authority and Executive Director Nicholas Noce for their steadfast leadership and continued commitment to this cause,” said Monroe County Legislator Kirk Morris.

A leader in the fight against PFAS chemicals, Senator Gillibrand has long advocated for and championed legislation to protect the public from dangerous PFAS chemicals. Gillibrand’s Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act would require the EPA to establish regulations to address PFAS for eight industry categories and provide dedicated funding to the EPA to complete those rulemakings. Just this year, the EPA finalized the first-ever national drinking water standard for PFAS, which mirrors the standard called for by Gillibrand’s Protect Drinking Water from PFAS Act.

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Senate appropriators is available here or below: 

Dear Chair Merkley and Ranking Member Murkowski, 

As you develop the Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, we urge you to include $20 million in additional dedicated funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water to complete and accelerate the implementation of effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) for PFAS discharges under the Clean Water Act. 

PFAS are a class of synthetic chemical substances that have been manufactured for decades despite evidence of their health risks and extraordinary persistence in our bodies and the environment. The strength of the carbon-fluorine bond found in PFAS chemicals, which is what makes them useful in a variety of consumer products and industrial processes, is also the reason the chemicals take so long to break down and thus accumulate over time. When polluters release PFAS into the environment, it is difficult and expensive to contain and remediate. For example, PFAS in waste sent to sewage treatment works will often pass through the treatment process, remaining in treated water and biosolids. From there, they can contaminate additional ecosystems, drinking water sources, and the food chain. This is already happening in thousands of communities across the country, causing a nationwide PFAS contamination crisis. 

Thankfully, the Clean Water Act includes a powerful mechanism that EPA can use to stop the flow of PFAS into our nation’s waters and ensure that manufacturers bear the costs of preventing and controlling PFAS contamination. Specifically, the Clean Water Act directs EPA to establish ELGs for industrial categories that discharge pollutants like PFAS. ELGs are developed on an industry-by-industry basis and are responsible for preventing billions of pounds of pollutants from being discharged into our waters annually. 

Unfortunately, EPA has failed for decades to establish any ELGs to address PFAS. That said, EPA is finally taking steps to do so. EPA’s 2021 PFAS Strategic Roadmap (Roadmap)acknowledged the importance of addressing PFAS pollution at the source and set timelines by which the agency plans to restrict PFAS discharges from multiple industrial categories. In January 2023, EPA issued its Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15), which further detailed the agency’s focus on addressing certain industrial PFAS discharges through ELGs. 

We applaud EPA for its ongoing commitment to reducing discharges of PFAS through the promulgation of ELGs. However, we are concerned that EPA lacks the resources it needs to complete this critical work. EPA has already experienced delays in meeting the timelines established in the Roadmap for establishing ELGs for certain industrial categories that discharge PFAS, and it is likely that the agency will continue to miss its deadlines unless the necessary levels of funding are provided. Thus, to prevent any further delays, we ask that your budget request for FY 2025 include sufficient funding for EPA to meet the deadlines set in the Roadmap and Plan 15. 

We also believe that the scale and severity of the PFAS contamination crisis warrants a more urgent approach than EPA is currently taking. Even if EPA is given all the resources it needs to take the actions outlined in the Roadmap and Plan 15, actually completing them will take years. The U.S. House of Representatives has twice passed the bipartisan Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, which would require EPA to set limits on PFAS discharges for nine industry categories within four years. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the Senate. We believe that anything less ambitious than the schedule endorsed by the House would fall short of what communities struggling with PFAS pollution expect and need from the EPA. 

We urge you to include $20 million in the FY 2025 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for the EPA’s Office of Water to accelerate the development of ELGs to help stop PFAS pollution at the source. We thank you for taking PFAS pollution seriously and look forward to working with you on addressing this urgent crisis.