Defense Department seeks much weaker PFAS pollution standard than EPA

While the Dunleavy administration tries to reassure Alaskans about weakening PFAS pollution standards, a battle between two federal agencies shows that the Trump administration is not speaking with a single voice.

“Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is strongly defending his department's stance that the acceptable risk level for remediating groundwater contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) should be much weaker than the 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) level that EPA favors, raising doubts that officials will be able to quickly issue a long-promised policy,” the website reported Wednesday.

Inside EPA says it obtained a letter in which Shanahan “defends his department's position in the long-running inter-agency dispute for a risk cleanup level of 380 ppt— much less stringent than EPA's preferred 70 ppt level—saying DOD's level is based on the risk-based process EPA” should be using.

“His response appears to cement DOD's position in its long-simmering dispute with EPA over a groundwater cleanup policy even as calls have built in recent weeks from Democratic lawmakers urging EPA not to accede to pressure from DOD and other agencies to set a weaker level than 70 ppt.”

There are estimates that the bill for PFAS cleanup on military installations could top $2 billion, though the exact amount will depend on what level of the contaminant is deemed safe.

In Alaska, the DOD position is important because PFAS pollution has been discovered in private wells near Eielson Air Force Base and could be a problem in various other locations where fire-fighting foam has been used.

“In the absence of a federal standard, states, including New Jersey, have been stepping in and setting their own standards that are stricter than EPA's proposed standard,” Inside EPA said.

The Dunleavy administration has reversed stronger standards adopted last fall by the Walker administration on the grounds that later this year the EPA will decide whether it will set maximum contaminant levels for PFAS pollution.

A newspaper column by two state commissioners this week gave a misleading impression that EPA would set a standard this year. EPA says it plans to decide this year if it should set a cleanup standard.

One of the reasons given by DEC Commissioner Jason Brune for weakening the PFAS regulations in Alaska was that a bill has been introduced in the Senate, co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and about 30 other senators.

But Inside EPA says the bill is unlikely to pass. “Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, the top Democrat on the Senate environment committee, appeared to acknowledge the legislation's slim prospects,” it said.

Carper said, “Congress needs to continue conducting consistent and persistent oversight on the administration, especially EPA and the Department of Defense, and impart a strong sense of urgency."

Dermot Cole2 Comments