WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed the polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Action Act of 2021 on Wednesday, which will regulate toxic chemicals in drinking water and identify two types of those toxic chemicals as hazardous substances worth federal cleanup.

The PFAS Action Act of 2021 passed 241-183, with 23 Republicans voting in favor of it. With this legislation, the EPA will start a regulatory process by deciding on whether to set drinking water standards for certain types of PFAS or to regulate the entire class, which ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 substances.

The Navy recently found that the Patuxent River Naval Air Station(NAS) had elevated levels of PFAS in 2020. Also, the Navy announced to the public on April 28, 2021, that there are top levels of PFAS contamination in the soil and surface water at the Naval Research Laboratory’s Chesapeake Detachment in Chesapeake Beach.

“Like countless other districts in the country, in Maryland’s Fifth District, which I represent, they have detected PFAS contamination at military installations,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “Residents who live in communities next to the Pax River Naval Air Station and the Naval Research Laboratory’s Chesapeake Bay Detachment are rightly concerned about what this contamination may have done to the water they and their children drink or used to bathe.”

PICTURED: Steny Hoyer(file)

Although the Patuxent River had high levels of PFAS, the Navy claimed that the issue has affected no one.

“With respect to PFAS releases that have occurred at NAS Patuxent River, Webster Outlying Field, and NRC Solomons, there is no evidence to suggest that any populations are exposed. The Navy is, has been, and will continue to investigate past releases through NAS Patuxent River’s Environmental Restoration Program,” NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs Officer, Patrick Gordon, said.

However, some believe that PFAS are a major issue to the community since there are well over two types of PFAS left unchecked.

“There are over 8,000 PFAS, and they are saying they are only going to regulate two of them,” Pat Elder, a Southern Maryland environmental activist, said. “We have these joint-use airports that will continue to contaminate those communities, and those communities won’t get cleaned up.”

There is currently no method to find all PFAS, but officers at the NAS Patuxent River are researching how to become PFA-free.

“There is no analytical method to test for all PFAS. We use the USEPA validated analytical method, which currently can detect 18 compounds,” Gordon said. “At Pax River, the bulk of our PFAS site assessment efforts have focused on the historic use of aqueous film-forming foam, also known as AFFF. Research efforts are ongoing to find an acceptable PFAS-free replacement for AFFF that meets lifesaving performance requirements of current AFFF products.  “

Also, the bill has received criticism for its lack of accountability by excluding the word “military” in its text. Yet, many believe the Department of Defense (DoD) has played a role in contaminating the area with PFAS.

“The DoD handles massive cleanup, and it is not just drinking water. It is the creeks, the bays and the rivers. They are all contaminated. The worst parts in the country are near the burning pits and the airports at military installations,” Elder said. “The DoD knew in the early 70s this stuff harms human health. [They have] for 50 years. There have been all kinds of studies. These guys are pretending this is new and shocking.”

However, it should be noted that researchers did not have initial evidence of PFAS in the NAS Patuxent River until recently.

“The initial evidence that PFAS may have been released at NAS Patuxent River was identified during the Preliminary Assessment (PA; the first step of the Comprehensive, Environmental Response, compensation, and Liability Act process), which was completed and published in 2018. The PA for Webster Outlying Field was completed in 2019 and the PA for NRC Solomons is ongoing,” Gordon said.

As a solution to the issue, critics have suggested establishing a fund for state health departments that would test private wells within a certain distance of known industrial or military release sites. Meanwhile, the EPA could establish limitations, guidelines and standards under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Critics and detractors of the bill are looking for accountability and guidelines for each PFA in the legislation if the government wants to get these individuals to believe in their vision. Lastly, the Navy plans to listen and work with the community.

“Regardless of the act’s outcome in Congress, we will continue to work with our partners inside the fence line and in the community regarding our actions,” Gordon said. “We’re committed to being upfront and transparent with our community partners regarding our PFAS site assessment efforts at Pax; our most recent Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting in March 2021 focused entirely on the PFAS site assessment at Pax and answered community questions regarding our actions here.”

In the most recent test in December 2020 of the Patuxent River’s drinking water quality, the Navy found no evidence of PFAS, and they hope to keep it that way.

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