Governor Wolf Takes Executive Action to Address PFAS Concerns and Protect Pennsylvanians
September 21, 2018
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced the establishment of a multi-agency PFAS Action Team and other executive actions to address growing national concerns surrounding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These man-made chemicals are resistant to heat, water and oil, and persist in the environment and the human body, heightening concern among residents in areas of the state in which these chemicals have been identified in drinking water. The plan announced today moves Pennsylvania to the forefront of states taking proactive action to address PFAS and other water contaminants.
“This issue is by no means limited to Pennsylvania, but I am using all the authority I have to address this emerging environmental and public health issue because our residents deserve clean air, pure water, and to know that the environment they live in is safe,” Governor Wolf said. “I have consistently called on the federal government to demonstrate leadership by establishing national safe drinking water standards for PFAS, but in the absence of federal action, Pennsylvania will move forward aggressively to ensure Pennsylvania residents are protected.”
PFAS substances were commonly used in applications including surface coating of paper and cardboard packaging products, carpets, non-stick pans, and textiles, as well as firefighting foams. These substances have been detected in air, water, and soil in and around production manufacturing facilities as well as airports and military bases which utilized firefighting foams. Companies began phasing out the production and use of several PFAS substances in the early 2000s, and two of the most well studied—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—are no longer manufactured or imported into the United States. Despite the phase-out, contamination has been identified at 11 sites in Pennsylvania, each of which are being addressed by state and federal cleanup efforts.
On September 19th, Governor Wolf signed an executive order forming a PFAS Action Team. The PFAS Action Team will be responsible for developing a comprehensive response to identify and eliminate the sources of contamination. The Action Team will be led by the secretaries of Environmental Protection, Health, Military and Veteran Affairs, Community and Economic Development, Agriculture, and the State Fire Commissioner. Their efforts will specifically address strategies to deliver safe drinking water and minimize risks from firefighting foam and other PFAS sources, manage environmental contamination, create specific site plans, explore funding for remediation efforts, and increase public education.
In addition to the creation of the Action Team, today the governor also announced that the commonwealth will prioritize the hiring of a state toxicologist, and two associate toxicologists in order to evaluate defensible PFAS drinking water limits and strategy. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) typically sets such limits, no timeline has been established for action at the federal level despite repeated calls from Governor Wolf and officials nationwide. The Department of Health is already in the process of hiring one toxicologist and will immediately begin the search for an additional two.
Earlier this week, Governor Wolf wrote to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to again urge that EPA move forward to establish a more-protective maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS. Separately, the governor reached out to members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to request their support for proposed legislation that provides funding to states to test, address, monitor and remediate contaminants and suspected contaminants of drinking water, groundwater, surface water, and lands.
“While my administration is taking action to address these and other emerging contaminants, I write to ask for your assistance in moving forward with the federal response,” wrote Governor Wolf. “Failure to address PFAS nationally using a holistic approach will continue to put public health at risk and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent state laws and regulations.”
And, in order to better understand the potential extent of this issue statewide, the governor has directed DEP to develop a PFAS sampling plan to test public water systems across the commonwealth in order to identify any additional systems with elevated PFAS levels in drinking water. Sampling will help locate other areas, beyond the known contamination sites, where steps to address contamination may be needed. Sampling is scheduled to begin in early 2019, and water systems will be selected based on risk characteristics developed by the department.
Finally, the governor also called for legislation that establishes an interim notification level similar to California’s which would require state notification if there is a detection of PFOS and PFOA above a protective level established as a percentage of EPA’s published Health Advisory Level.