Senators introduce bills to expedite cleanup of PFAS contamination

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Equipment used to test for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) in drinking water at Trident Laboratories in Holland, Mich., pictured on Monday, June 18, 2018. Trident Labs added testing for perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, in March after toxic contamination was identified at a former tannery near Rockford.

Washington — Michigan's senators have introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to expedite the federal government's investigation and cleanup of communities contaminated by fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, introduced two bills with Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, regarding the PFAS contamination, which has affected several Michigan communities, including two in Kalamazoo County where authorities last month warned residents to stop drinking or cooking with water due to contamination. Michigan officials said Monday residents in the communities could start drinking the water there again.

The chemicals have been detected in Michigan lakes and drinking water in West Michigan’s Belmont area and around military installations including Wurtsmith Air Force Base and Sawyer Air Force Base.

PFAS chemicals have been used in firefighting foams, food packaged in the materials, and in commercial household products or manufacturing facilities.

One of the bills, introduced with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, would create reporting requirements and deadlines for cleaning up PFAS contamination at federal facilities, including both current and decommissioned military bases. 

Rubio was in Michigan earlier this month campaigning for Stabenow's Republican challenger, John James, in Detroit. Stabenow is seeking a fourth term.

Their bill, the PFAS Accountability Act, "encourages" federal agencies to expedite or amend cooperative agreements with states to address contamination.

Stabenow's office says such agreements would lay out actions that federal authorities would take and guarantee states and local communities are reimbursed for costs incurred to address PFAS contamination.

Cooperative agreements between the Defense Department and state regulators are needed to access in federal funding approved earlier this year to address PFAS contamination at military bases.  

The second bill, introduced with Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, intends to improve detection of PFAS in the environment. 

The PFAS Detection Act would designate $45 million over five years for the U.S. Geological Survey to set a performance standard and develop new technologies to detect PFAS.

The legislation also requires USGS to conduct nationwide sampling for PFAS chemicals to determine the concentration of perfluorinated compounds in estuaries, lakes, streams, springs, wells, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and soil.

A Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on PFAS contamination on Sept. 26.