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Federal budget bill includes $10M for PFAS health study, $85M for cleanup

March 22, 2018
In The News

The bill could fund a nationwide health study that would include residents of Bucks and Montgomery counties who were exposed to PFAS in drinking water.

A gigantic federal budget bill passed by lawmakers this week includes nearly $100 million for activities related to PFAS chemicals, including $10 million for a nationwide health study.

This news organization has been tracking the potential funding for months, as Bucks and Montgomery County communities exposed to the chemicals through drinking water are being eyed for inclusion in the study. The lawmakers’ agreement on the $1.3 trillion spending measure brings the funding to the brink of realization. The bill cleared tense votes in the House and Senate this week and sits on President Donald Trump’s desk for approval, needing his signature by midnight Friday evening to avoid a government shutdown.

The $10 million figure for the health study, which was confirmed by the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, is an increase from the $7 million previously proposed in appropriation bills. Casey spokeswoman Jacklin Rhoads said the bill also contains an additional $10 million for the Department of Defense to conduct health screenings related to drinking water contamination.

“These are huge wins,” Rhoads said, noting Casey has been working to win the funding for more than a year.

The budget bill also adds $43.8 million to the Air Force’s environmental restoration defense fund and $42.2 million to the Navy’s account to “address costs” related to PFAS contamination.

The subject of an ongoing series by this news organization, PFAS — also known as perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs — are chemicals found in firefighting foams used widely at military bases across the country. At a growing number of sites, military investigations are finding the chemicals in the environment and nearby drinking water supplies. In 2014, the chemicals were found in nationally high amounts in drinking water in Horsham, Warminster and Warrington, serving some 70,000 current residents and unknown populations of past residents and veterans.

Some studies have linked the chemicals to health effects including high cholesterol, low birth weight, immunodeficiencies, ulcerative colitis and some cancers. However, experts consider the science to be incomplete, precipitating lawmakers to fund a nationwide health study on their effects.

The outlines of such a study were previously laid out in a separate budget authorization bill last year.

That bill requires the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, to “commence a study on the human health implications” of exposure to perfluorinated compounds used in firefighting foam.

Although PFOS and PFOA are the two most well-known of that chemical family, the bill states “multiple types” of the chemicals should be studied.

The study should take no longer than five years, with a possible two-year extension if the agencies justify a delay to Congress. To conduct the study, the health agencies should study “no less than eight current or former” military bases known to have contamination issues.

Such studies must include “bio-monitoring,” or blood testing, the report stated, with testing required to begin within 180 days of the bill’s enactment and conclude within two years. A report on blood testing would also need to be delivered to Congress within one year of conclusion, the bill states. That bill was signed Dec. 12, 2017.

The agency appears on its way: Last month, it was reported that Pennsylvania and New York were granted $175,000 each to initiate pilot studies on the “toolkit” the CDC plans to use to conduct a nationwide study. Pennsylvania Department of Health officials said the program will involve testing the blood of approximately 400 area residents this spring, in order to issue a report by a June 1 deadline. Should Pennsylvania be included in a nationwide health study, additional blood testing is expected.

In an emailed statement, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, touted the PFAS funding in the bill. Fitzpatrick has actively supported the funding efforts in the House.

“My constituents have a right to safe, clean drinking water and they deserve to know if PFOS and PFOA have compromised their long-term health,” Fitzpatrick said. “Securing funding for a health screening is a crucial step in the right direction of addressing this serious, growing health threat.”

The $86 million in combined environmental restoration funding also is a nearly $14 million increase from past proposals. However, the funding might be just a fraction of what will be needed to cleanup the chemicals, as the U.S. military is now searching for and finding the chemicals at dozens of bases. While the Department of Defense has not provided any hard estimates publicly, Casey said military officials told him the amount could reach as high as $2 billion.

Details on the additional $10 million for health screenings are not included in the language of the budget bill expected to pass this week. The bill only states the funding will go to the defense-wide environmental restoration account and “is provided to address health screenings related to contaminated water.”

Although no funding is provided, the bill does include a requirement that the DOD provide “quarterly reports to the congressional defense committees on the extent of (PFAS) contamination in drinking water problem, plans for community notification, and procedures for timely remediation.”

Casey and Fitzpatrick are among a contingent of local lawmakers who have pushed for federal PFAS funding. Joining them are Senator Pat Toomey, R-Allentown, as well as U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, D-13, Philadelphia, and Pat Meehan, R-7, Upper Darby.