WASHINGTON, DC – Today at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on their efforts in the federal government to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, Mark Johnson, Deputy Director for Business and Regulatory Affairs at Ohio Environmental Protection Agency expressed appreciation for the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was a lead negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which provides a historic $54 billion for water infrastructure investments across the country. This includes $23.4 billion for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, $15 billion for lead pipe remediation, and $10 billion to address PFAS in drinking water.
Portman also pressed witnesses to help ensure communities in Ohio and across the United States have access to accurate and timely information about PFAS and potential contamination. Portman highlighted the importance of federal agencies having open and transparent communication with states and local communities about PFAS, as well as the need for the federal government to accelerate their research on PFAS chemicals and the impacts they may have on human health.
Excerpts of his questioning can be found below and videos can be found here and here.
Portman: “Thank you, Chairman Peters, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to participate earlier to hear the entire testimony, although my staff was here and we’ll get it all. I was at the ceremony preceding the lying in state for Senator Dole, but I’m very interested in following up on Senator Rosen’s question. We’re proud of what we do in Ohio, and we’ll hear more about that in the second panel because we’ll have a representative from Ohio, but there’s a comprehensive plan there to educate and inform communities about PFAS and the potential issues. I’m pleased with that level of communication and outreach. I’m not as pleased with what we’re doing at the federal level. I think we should be sharing data, testing results, other information, be more transparent. It’s important that we educate and communicate with the public. So to Inspector General O’Donnell and Inspector General Roark from EPA and DoD, respectively. Let me follow up a little bit on that and talk about what we can do better. What ways can your respective agencies improve their communication to states and communities about PFAS? And particularly as research continues to evolve about these PFAS chemicals and their impact on health outcomes, which I hope will be forthcoming here in the next few years. One of my frustrations is understanding there are 4,700 chemicals involved. Roughly. It’s not easy, but we need to get better scientific data about what the impact is. But how can we ensure that there’s accurate and timely information sharing with the public? And maybe we’ll start with you, Mr. O’Donnell.”
The Honorable Sean O’Donnell, Inspector General & Acting Inspector General at Environmental Protection Agency & U.S. Department of Defense: “Thanks, Senator. As I had just said, an important part of protecting human health and the environment is, of course, informing communities of the risks that they face and the pollution in their community and nearby water sources, food sources. We have, at EPA OIG, a growing and robust body of work on the EPA’s success or lack thereof when it comes to communicating that risk. What we have found and this is in particular with respect to PFAS, is that the states are far ahead of the EPA when it comes to addressing chemical safety and risk from those chemicals. And so I think that what we speak to often, and it’s been an enduring issue that we’ve seen with respect to the EPA, is that in its role as partner with the states, and in particular, has an oversight role to join and to really catch up with the states so that it can provide a consistent message across the United States.”
Portman: “Mr. Roark?”
Michael J. Roark, Deputy Inspector General for Evaluations at U.S. Department of Defense: “In our report, we mentioned some of the communication and coordination activities that are ongoing, but we also highlight some areas for improvement. And so in terms of the areas for communication and coordination that are ongoing, there are really four main areas which we discussed in our report. The first was drinking water testing. We cataloged the DoD’s efforts to test the drinking water for PFAS across the different communities that are impacted. Second, we took a look at the notifications to impacted populations, for example at Camp Grayling in Michigan, we discussed with them some of their strategies that they’ve used, such as town hall meetings with the community to discuss the test results for the groundwater. Also, Camp Grayling officials also talked to us quite a bit about posting information on the state of Michigan’s PFAS Response Team website just so that the public would have access to that information. The third area was coordinating with health care providers, so that when folks show up seeking health care, it may have an informed discussion with their health care providers. So getting that information in the hands of healthcare providers is really important. At the OSD level and then at each of the three military departments, they have disseminated information to health care providers to ensure that that sharing of information occurs. And then the final area, the fourth area of coordination is the annual firefighter blood testing requirement that DoD is implementing right now. So those were kind of some of the four major items that were going on. The area for improvement that we noted in our report was keeping populations such as firefighters aware of where emerging chemicals are within that emerging chemical process. When we asked firefighters at the six installations that we visited as part of this…”
Portman: “Mr. Roark, was Wright Patterson Air Force Base one of those?”
Mr. Roark: “It was not.”
Mr. Roark: “When we asked them about the 2011 risk alert for PFAS containing AFFF, they were not aware of that. In addition, when we asked them about, were they aware of exposure risks regarding materials other than AFFF they were not aware of that either. Which kind of indicated to us that the information may not be getting down to some of the users of emerging chemicals.”
Portman: “Let’s turn to DoD then quickly to talk about this. So you identified, as IG, some shortcomings and as I said earlier, some of it is because there’s a lack of good research that’s being done so far, it’s not definitive in the case of some of these chemicals, which we need to accelerate. But to Mr. Kidd and Ms. Macaluso, talk about how you measure, how do you measure the effectiveness of your communications to service members, their families and surrounding communities? I think of Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the surrounding community in Dayton. There’s been a frustration there about information sharing. And are you feeling like you are communicating the latest developments, the latest research in an appropriate way to the military and to the public who are understandably concerned about PFAS?”
Richard G. Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Energy Resilience at U.S. Department of Defense: “Senator, I believe that we are improving in our communications effort, and we have a ways to go. So as part of the creating a holistic enterprise response, then Secretary Mark Esper created a PFAS task force inside the Pentagon, gave us three lines of effort, find alternatives to AFFF, honor our cleanup obligations, and track public health. When I briefed that program to this administration asking for its reauthorization, it was obviously reauthorized. And Deputy Secretary Hicks said, ‘And you must improve communication and transparency.’ So that was a charge from Deputy Secretary Hicks that we are embarking on. We have a ways to go. I have personally met with a number of the folks that are going to be on the second panel later this morning, and we have identified a range of activities that we’d like to do starting in 2022 once we get a budget, some new starts in terms of improving our training. So unfortunately, in some of the budget cuts of recent years, the training programs for our Restoration Advisory Board and Restoration Advisory committees was reduced. We have a best practice guide that is good, but ten years old. I would like to go back and revisit the training we provide to our installations in terms of public outreach. I’d also like to go back and update our best practices guide so that we can get better outcomes in terms of community engagement.”
Portman: “Well, my time is expiring, but I hope as a result of this hearing that you will do that, not just that you’d like to do it, but let’s make it happen. And again, we need to have the research catch up as well to be able to provide more accurate and relevant information to stakeholders. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I appreciate your being here. As I said earlier, I think Ohio has a good system in place in terms of testing, transparency, and being sure we’re communicating this clearly to stakeholders. You mentioned the infrastructure legislation having $10 billion to address PFAS. This is an historic investment, as you know, it’s going to flow to the states through the Clean and Drinking Water State revolving funds, as well as through the Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant program. Can you talk a little about how that’s going to impact what you’re doing back home? How will that help this PFAS funding in the infrastructure bill to address and prevent PFAS contamination, particularly in drinking water?”
Mark Johnson, Deputy Director for Business and Regulatory Affairs at Ohio Environmental Protection Agency: “Absolutely. Thank you for your question, and we very much appreciate the funding support that’s being provided through the infrastructure bill to help address PFAS challenges in Ohio. As mentioned in my testimony, going through the process of collecting the sample data from our public water systems under the Action Plan, it’s provided us with very important information that we can use in putting these dollars to work. We look forward to developing a plan for potential uses for this funding. Also be working with our stakeholders, including public water systems, to get their thoughts and ideas on how to best use this money. One area where we can see this funding being applied is in helping our systems that have low-level PFAS detections, upgrade their treatment systems, or make other infrastructure improvements that both reduce PFAS risk and best prepare them for future regulations related to PFAS in drinking water. In addition, Ohio EPA will look to explore additional testing and planning for addressing PFAS contamination. The availability of this funding will allow public water systems to install treatment or potentially develop alternate sources of drinking water quickly and will help reduce the financial burden on its customers and the public water systems itself.”
Portman: “Well, I’m pleased to see that you have a plan, and it sounds like it’s a very constructive one to deal with our needs in Ohio, at least. And I hope other states have similar plans. We’re going to be following up on this, making sure that this legislation is properly implemented. It’s a lot of money and properly used, I think it can make a huge difference in terms of PFAS. The other aspect that we talked about earlier is the research. And although we have some research on some of these chemicals, of the over 4,700 chemicals, I think the federal government can do a better job there. Would it be helpful for you to have better research and federal research, in particular, with regard to the health impacts of some of these chemicals?”
Mr. Johnson: “It absolutely would. You know, certainly, the state relies on the federal government and their expertise in this area and relies on the federal government to conduct the needed research and develop technical guidance. It’s critical for the states to implement these types of regulations, especially with the complexity of PFAS. Most states lack that resource to conduct this work on their own and on top of including the regulation of all of our regulatory programs, the development of these regulatory standards. Most states heavily rely on the federal government, and we certainly understand the importance of that.”
Portman: “Great, thank you, Mr. Johnson.”