Congress to consider bill to coordinate the study and mitigation of PFAS


Jul. 27, 2022

This week the house will be considering H.R. 7289, the Federal PFAS Research Evaluation Act. The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to complete studies related to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances in order to identify and fill gaps in research and data.

Executive Summary

  • Introduced by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-7) , H.R. 7289 requires the EPA and other agencies to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to complete two studies related to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS. The objective of the bill is to create studies to identify and fill gaps in research to identify, categorize, evaluate, and address PFAS individually or as a group and their effects on human health and the environment as well as to determine replacement and mitigation options.
  • Since regulatory action to address PFAS’ effects on human and environmental health as well its removal, treatment, and destruction, has been disjointed and spread across several federal agencies, H.R. 7289 would require these agencies to join with NASEM to conduct a study to further address research and knowledge gaps identified by the NASEM’s 2020 research workshop on PFAS.
  • Federal agencies including the EPA would enter into an agreement with NASEM to conduct two studies. The first would report on the effects of PFAS on human health and the environment as well as the life cycle of PFAS and products containing PFAS. The second study would evaluate replacement substances for PFAS, and the mitigation of damage caused by PFAS to the environment.

The first study

  • The research assessments of PFAS would identify the research and development needed to identify, categorize, evaluate, and address individual or total PFAS.
  • The first study would identify human exposure to PFAS by considering PFAS from cradle to grave; manufacture, use, and disposal of PFAS containing products. The study would consider both workplace and other exposure pathways (air, water, soil) to the public to determine their contributions.
  • The study would also evaluate the fate and transport of PFAS and their breakdown products, and determine the range of solubility, stability, and volatility of PFAS most likely to be found in the environment and the resulting prevalence in animals and humans.
  • The determination of whether chemical category-based approaches for the evaluation of PFAS toxicity and exposure would be considered.
  • Finally, the study would identify research needed to advance exposure estimation as well as toxicity and hazard assessment of individual or total PFAS.

The second study

  • The agencies would also team with NASEM to conduct a study on the development of alternatives to PFAS, the management and treatment of PFAS, and mitigation of its contamination in the environment.
  • This study would take into account best available strategies for PFAS treatment, site remediation, and safe disposal, include pilot projects for destruction methods and alternative materials for firefighters. It would also provide research gaps relating to these issues, including potential PFAS classification methods, and the emergence of new PFAS.
  • The study would provide recommendations to best address research needs and how to incorporate socioeconomic considerations into research proposal developments and conduct. This element is a key component of the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative. (The goal of the Justice40 Initiative is to provide 40% of the overall benefits of federal investment to disadvantaged communities. EJSCREEN is a tool to used identify these communities.)

What are PFAS and why are they a problem?

  • H.R. 7289 defines PFAS as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, including mixtures of such substances, and provides that there are more than 5,000 types of registered PFAS compounds.
  • PFAS are able to repel oil and water and are produced for use as surface treatments for soil, stain, and water resistance; for textiles, paper, and metals; and most notably for fire suppression (foams). They are used in cleaning products, cookware, in leather, paint, and wire insulation.
  • PFAS contamination originates from industrial facilities where PFAS are manufactured or used, as well as from military bases, commercial airports, and petroleum refineries that use firefighting foam containing PFAS fires. In addition, the disposal of all of the consumer goods coated with pfas end up in landfills leaching PFAS. [An EPA explainer on PFAS may be reviewed here .]
  • H.R. 7289 provides PFAS have been detected in air, water, soil, food, biosolids, etc. PFAS can accumulate and remain in the body for a long time, and potentially lead to serious health effects including cancer, low infant birthweight, liver and kidney issues, reproductive and developmental problems, among other conditions and ailments.

What’s next for bill 7289?

  • The bill will be considered this week by the House.
  • If the bill is enacted, the EPA the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies would enter into an agreement with NASEM to conduct a study and submit a report to address research and knowledge gaps that were identified in NASEM’s 2020 workshop report within 90 days.
  • Once the agreement has been finalized, the agencies and NASEM would conduct the studies, and reports of both studies would be provided to Congress 1.5 years (540 days) after the agreement between NASEM and the agencies was reached.
  • Six months after the reports were submitted to Congress, the EPA and all involved agencies along with the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy would then submit an implementation plan coordinating the efforts to address PFAS, taking into account the findings and recommendations of the two reports.
  • The bill’s objective of combining federal resources has been discussed before in meetings of the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC). For example, in the meeting in the spring of 2022 concerning the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Screening Level Approach for Assessing Air and Water Exposure to Fenceline Communities, the idea of combining resources across agencies to increase efficiency and to utilize the best available science in making determinations was discussed.

To contact the author of this item, please email Patricia Iscaro.
To contact the editor of this item, please email Scott Stephens.

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