As cities and towns grapple with the management of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water across the Commonwealth, discussions continue on state and federal efforts.

Known for their stain-resistant, water-resistant and nonstick qualities, PFAS — also called “forever chemicals” due to their inability to biodegrade — have been found to leach into groundwater and surface water. Because of their chemical stability, the family of chemicals poses significant barriers to traditional contaminant remediation measures and can linger in the environment.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on June 23 to discuss several legislative proposals to address PFAS contamination and use statewide. The MMA submitted testimony in support of H. 2197 and S. 1356, wide-ranging legislation filed by Rep. Kate Hogan and Sen. Julian Cyr, co-chairs of the PFAS Interagency Task Force. The identical bills would implement many of the key recommendations put forward in the Final Report of the PFAS Interagency Task Force, including the creation of a PFAS remediation fund, timelines to phase out PFAS in consumer products, testing for private wells, and further regulation for industrial polluters.

Because municipal drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utilities, as well as municipal landfills, are passive recipients of PFAS, liability protection for municipal surface water and groundwater discharges has been identified as a concern. The PFAS legislation seeks to establish industrial accountability, which municipalities and the MMA view as a welcome addition to methods to prevent PFAS from entering streams and water bodies across Massachusetts and protecting local governments legally and financially.

The MMA’s comments also highlighted the need to pursue many funding opportunities to remediate PFAS contamination across the Commonwealth, as cities and towns have had to take on a significant financial burden to treat PFAS in drinking water supplies thus far.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six PFAS chemicals, a proposal the MMA commented on in May. Further regulation of PFAS chemicals on a national scale would greatly benefit public health and help ensure that safe drinking water is available nationwide. Such regulation, however, would require significant investment from federal, state and local governments. Funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has been made available, but an analysis by the American Water Works Association projects the likely fiscal impact of this work in the billions of dollars.

Additional PFAS efforts on the national level include legislation filed by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to bolster the development of innovative technologies to identify PFAS in the environment, prevent further contamination, remediate or destroy PFAS, improve science related to the chemicals, and assist as communities clean up contamination.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works accepted stakeholder comments on the proposal through July 14. Comments submitted by the MMA raised liability protection for local governments as necessary to addressing PFAS in a holistic and sustainable manner.

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