The U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to reduce the spread of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination at commercial airports.
The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act -- which passed the U.S. Senate unanimously earlier this month -- would deploy more existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for commercial airports to purchase devices necessary to test their firefighting equipment without discharging toxic PFAS chemicals. This legislation would encourage commercial airports to purchase the relatively low-cost devices -- also referred to as an input-based testing system -- to help limit and prevent exposure to PFAS, which are known as "forever chemicals" because they do not naturally break down. It would also direct the FAA to identify options for reimbursing airports in Michigan and elsewhere that already acquired the devices without federal funding.
"As PFAS contamination continues to pose serious risks, there are commonsense, fiscally responsible ways that we can prevent and mitigate its spread," said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. "My bipartisan Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act will make testing equipment that prevents the spread of PFAS contamination more affordable for airports, while protecting our first responders, families, and Great Lakes. Now that the House has passed this bill, I'll keep working to see it signed into law."
"Commercial airports should have the necessary resources to test their firefighting equipment in a manner that does not expose firefighters or the surrounding communities to toxic PFAS foams," said Senator Moran. "I look forward to this legislation being signed into law to help promote the health and wellness of firefighters and aviation employees at commercial airports, as well as protect the communities that surround them."
The FAA has required commercial airports nationwide to use firefighting foam that contains toxic PFAS chemicals. For years airports were required to discharge this foam as part of routine, federally-mandated testing of their firefighting equipment. This put firefighters, the environment and the public at risk from exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals.
The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act -- which Peters introduced earlier this year with U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) -- would make more funding from the FAA's Airport Improvement Program available to commercial airports to purchase devices that avoid discharging PFAS chemicals when testing firefighting equipment. It would also direct the FAA to identify options for reimbursing airports in Michigan and elsewhere that already acquired the devices without federal funding.
Peters has led the charge in the Senate to address PFAS contamination. In July, Peters introduced bipartisan legislation to help advance the federal government's understanding of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to better inform plans to effectively address PFAS contamination. As Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he held a field hearing in East Lansing to examine federal efforts and coordination with state and local governments to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination. Following that he introduced bipartisan legislation to improve communication and coordination efforts across every level of government to ensure there is a more comprehensive approach to cleaning up existing sites and preventing future contamination. Previously, he convened a hearing in December examining Department of Defense failures to protect servicemembers, military families and Michigan communities from PFAS exposure. Peters' bill to help protect firefighters and emergency responders from PFAS exposure in the line of duty also passed the Senate.
Last year, Peters released a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shows the federal government needs to take further action to clean up and prevent contamination from PFAS and helped pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which invests in clean drinking water and includes dedicated funding to address PFAS contamination. He supported or led provisions in the 2019 national defense bill banning the Department of Defense from purchasing firefighting foams containing PFAS. The bill also immediately prohibited the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS in military training exercises, and enhanced state cooperation with the Department of Defense regarding clean-up due to PFAS contamination stemming from military-related activities. He authored and enacted into law in 2018 a provision allowing airports to discontinue the use of firefighting foams with PFAS. In September 2018, Peters helped convene the first hearing on PFAS contamination in the Senate, assessing the federal response to contamination and remediation. He then convened a field summit in Grand Rapids in November 2018 to shine a light on how the local, state and federal governments are coordinating their response to PFAS.