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The PFAS Interagency Task Force released an 88-page report yesterday that outlines a policy framework to protect public health and address environmental concerns and remediation efforts related to the family of chemicals.
The report makes clear that the Commonwealth must phase out, regulate and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, while building education and awareness campaigns on the issue and the corresponding state and local responses. The task force, co-chaired by Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Kate Hogan, makes 30 specific recommendations.
“This report moves the Commonwealth in the right direction on the regulation, funding and removal of PFAS from the state economy and consumer products, and our water supplies,” said Easton Town Administrator Connor Read, the MMA’s appointee to the task force. “These recommendations — if adopted by the Legislature — will support municipal governments in Massachusetts as we meet our charge to serve our communities and provide safe, clean drinking water to those who live in them.”
The task force, established by the fiscal 2021 state budget, held a series of 11 hearings to investigate contamination by PFAS — known as “forever chemicals” — across Massachusetts.
PFAS are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. Also found in firefighting foam and other fire retardants, PFAS have been detected in water and soil sources in Massachusetts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.
PFAS remediation can be a complicated and costly process, as the chemical stability of PFAS chemicals pose significant barriers to traditional contaminant remediation measures.
The task force’s recommendations fall into the following eight strategies and include regulatory and legislative actions:
1. Fund PFAS detection and remediation: The task force seeks funding for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health to conduct PFAS testing in water, soil, air, and other environmental sources in locations with known or suspected contamination. The report acknowledges the need for grants, rather than loans, for municipalities, public water systems, and homeowners to cover PFAS remediation projects.
2. Support environmental justice communities: Recognizing the disproportionate impacts that PFAS can have on minority, low-income, tribal and indigenous populations, the task force recommends deliberate measures to increase loan forgiveness for eligible PFAS remediation projects within the Disadvantaged Communities program and provide information in multiple languages.
3. Phase out PFAS in consumer products: The report recommends funding research on alternatives to PFAS, while setting stricter standards for products containing PFAS. Recommendations include labeling and state disclosure, with a ban on the sale of products with intentionally added PFAS to be adopted by 2030.
4. Expand PFAS regulation: The task force urges the MassDEP to adopt a more ambitious classification of PFAS that goes beyond the existing state standard, PFAS6, to further regulate fluorinated organic chemicals.
5. Encourage private well PFAS testing and remediation: The report recommends a new fund for communities to receive loans for private well PFAS remediation and encourages PFAS testing during property transfers involving private wells and new well permits.
6. Support for firefighters and local fire departments: The task force recommends funding for aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) take-back programs, decontamination efforts, and the purchasing of fluorine-free foam, along with increased cancer awareness training and screenings to address occupational exposure to products and gear containing PFAS.
7. Address PFAS contamination accountability: The report urges the state to identify reasonable limitations for liability claims for both homeowners and municipalities, and a continued evaluation of claims against PFAS manufacturers.
8. Enhance public awareness: The task force urges the MassDEP and DPH to conduct public education and awareness campaigns and provide guidance to health care providers and local governments on the health impacts of PFAS.
At a press event to unveil the report, task force Chairs Hogan and Cyr both indicated their intent to file a wide-ranging PFAS bill in the next legislative session. Since 2018, they said, Massachusetts has provided $30 million in grant funding and $100 million in loans to address PFAS. Although the report does not estimate the total amount of funding needed, task force leaders indicated that a significant amount of funding from a variety of sources and channels will be needed.
Key recommendations that support cities and towns include the creation of a PFAS Remediation Fund to provide grants to municipalities, public water systems, and homeowners, and several recommendations focused on firefighters and fire departments. Seven of the 30 recommendations focus on protecting firefighters from PFAS, particularly addressing the use, cleanup and replacement of AFFF fire suppressants.
“I hope this report leads to decisive action on the state level to grapple with this challenge in all areas identified — but especially the creation of sufficient, regular funding of a PFAS Mitigation Fund to support local governments who are already in the process of constructing costly treatment — and by pushing manufactures to remove PFAS from firefighter turnout gear as soon as viable to protect first responders,” Read said.
The federal government has yet to issue regulations for PFAS, but 16 states have begun to take action by establishing enforceable drinking water standards, with some requiring notification to state officials when water sources exceed state-issued limits. Last October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a strategic roadmap to confront PFAS contamination nationwide.
Read said the coordinated strategy proposed by the PFAS Interagency Task Force provides the guidance needed for Massachusetts to be a leader on this complex issue. Addressing the health and environmental impacts of PFAS contamination will require a multifaceted approach and significant financial investment, and the MMA will remain engaged with the Legislature and local officials to help to determine exactly how these recommendations will be funded and implemented in the coming years.
Read thanked the task force co-chairs for ensuring that municipalities were represented in the process.
“We look forward to working together with the Legislature and Commonwealth as this report translates to funding decisions, regulatory rulemaking, and lawmaking.”
Written by Josie Ahlberg and Adrienne Núñez, Legislative Analysts