Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Tom Carper, Chairman
The Honorable Shelley Moore Capito, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Chairman Carper and Ranking Member Capito,
On behalf of the 351 cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to submit comments on the draft per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) legislation released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We deeply appreciate the efforts of several national players, including the sponsors of this legislation, to address PFAS contamination in a holistic manner.
Preventing PFAS chemicals from entering the environment is top of mind for local governments across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As cities and towns continue to fund essential services that are impacted by PFAS contamination, especially in drinking water, we applaud the draft legislation’s efforts to prevent further pollution and remove these forever chemicals from our consumer goods, water supplies, soils, and air.
PFAS contaminants have been discovered in many communities in Massachusetts. This finding has resulted in the development of a vast network of research and investigation to identify sustainable solutions. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the PFAS Interagency Task Force have reviewed the available science and best practices to put forward a statewide approach to tackle PFAS contamination.
In 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection established an enforceable state maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds. These include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA). At the time, this regulatory standard was much more stringent than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisories for PFOA and PFOS.
The Massachusetts MCL for PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, PFHpA, and PFDA, commonly referred to as “PFAS6,” required communities to test, monitor, and remediate PFAS contamination in drinking water before a national enforceable regulation was proposed. Some 170 public water systems in Massachusetts were impacted by this MCL and found detections above 20 ppt.
So far, Massachusetts has committed $212 million in State Revolving Fund loans for just 26 projects to treat PFAS for the existing state regulation. Municipalities have invested heavily in public drinking water over the past several years, and will continue to do so to defend the public health of those they serve. Further regulation to establish a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation through the EPA will greatly improve drinking water safety across the United States, but this action will require a significant cost. Costs for corrective actions often go far beyond the support available through grant and loan programs. This has resulted in an increase in water rates for taxpayers across the impacted communities.
The PFAS Interagency Task Force was created in 2020 to study this complex issue and put forward a list of recommended actions for the state. The 88-page report put forward a policy framework to protect public health and address environmental concerns and remediation efforts related to the family of chemicals. A key recommendation of the report was to identify a path to adopt reasonable limitations for liability claims against homeowners and municipalities for PFAS contamination.
The draft legislation, while it accounts for research and development of new prevention, detection and mitigation technologies, fails to include liability protection for local governments. The work to remove PFAS from the environment is absolutely beneficial, but it cannot be sustainable without this key provision to safeguard cities and towns from a hefty financial burden.
Local governments in Massachusetts have taken on a significant amount of responsibility to navigate the most up-to-date scientific and regulatory information as well as state and federal policies. All the while, concerns over potential liability claims have risen, and support from national legislation — such as the draft language the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is currently reviewing — has the ability to address this matter.
Our members fear that further accountability without liability protection for local governments will result in legal and financial responsibility for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities as well as municipal landfills. These facilities are passive recipients of PFAS; PWSs do not intentionally add or cause pollution. These chemicals have been put into our environment for decades by industrial manufacturers. Liability protection for municipalities is essential to adhere to a “polluter pays” model. Placing further financial strain on cities and towns as they work to clean up the pollution they did not create is not a sustainable solution.
Municipalities eagerly await further updates from the EPA on whether PFOA and PFOS will be designated as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This determination could shift the burden of compliance and cleanup for PFAS onto municipal governments and their ratepayers, stressing the pocketbooks of families and individuals.
PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment because manufacturers engage in the design, marketing, and sale of these chemicals without regard for the long-term consequences. Municipalities should not be held financially or legally liable for those impacts. As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues to consider pathways to implement liability protections for municipal governments, we urge any national legislation to take these concerns into account to protect residents and ratepayers as soon as possible.
We deeply appreciate your consideration of our comments. This draft legislation has incredible potential to assist cities and towns across the United States of America, including those we represent in Massachusetts. We look forward to following the development of this proposal in the months to come. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Josie Ahlberg at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Thank you very much for your support of cities and towns across Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
The Honorable Edward J. Markey, Chair, Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety
The Honorable Elizabeth Warren