Energy & Environment

Senate Democrats unveil $20B bill to battle ‘forever chemical’ contamination

Aaron Schwartz

A new bill from Senate Democrats would roll out $20 billion in funding to remove cancer-linked “forever chemicals” from water as it contaminates supplies across the country.

The legislation, rolled out by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) office Thursday, targets a class of chemicals known as PFAS used in everyday products, ranging from nonstick cookware to raincoats. They’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the human body and the environment. 

The bill would expand the scope of existing water programs run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increasing the funding of various grant programs while allowing that money to be used to remove PFAS from water.

Those funds could be used by major water systems or even homeowners who need to have private wells tested.

“This widespread concern demands a comprehensive, meaningful response from Congress so American families can trust the safety of the water coming out of their tap,” Shaheen said in a statement. 

“This new legislation is an important step to help meet that goal by delivering robust federal resources to states to invest in remediation so we can quickly and efficiently clean our drinking water supplies when contamination is detected,” she added.

The $20 billion Shaheen’s bill sets aside — spread out over the course of a decade — would be a staggering increase over what Congress has previously appropriated on PFAS.

Much of that previous funding has gone to the military, which has spread PFAS contamination through heavy use of firefighting foam that contains it. The Pentagon estimates its own PFAS clean-up costs will exceed $2 billion.

Shaheen’s bill would allow for cleanup of drinking water as well as groundwater that has been contaminated. Much of the funding will be given to the EPA and then to the states, which could oversee programs helping people with wells treat their water. 

It gives preference to treatment methods that destroy PFAS entirely rather than filtration systems that capture PFAS, often leaving the accumulated contaminants in a landfill.

There are some earlier concerns from utilities, however, that the bill sets aside too much money.

“We do appreciate members of Congress offering financial assistance to address a contaminant,” Tommy Holmes, legislative director for the American Water Works Association, which represents water utilities, told The Hill by email. 

But the group is concerned about segregating funds for one purpose “when in a given utility, the bigger need may be in removing lead service lines, finding a better source of water or simply replacing aging infrastructure.” 

Tags Drinking water Drinking water quality in the United States forever chemicals Jeanne Shaheen United States Environmental Protection Agency Water supply and sanitation in the United States
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