Rules clamping down on ‘forever chemicals’ clear a key regulatory hurdle | Wednesday Morning Coffee

The state Environmental Quality Board approved new limits on PFAS chemicals in water, but work remains

November 17, 2021 7:13 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

New rules setting stricter limits on so-called “forever chemicals” in water supplies cleared a key regulatory hurdle, but it likely will take months before they have the force of law behind them.

The state Environmental Quality Board voted 17-2 to approve the regulatory change sought by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would set maximum contaminant limits on two forms of PFAS chemicals that can cause severe health problems.

The chemicals are used for a variety of purposes, including making waterproof cosmetics, stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting, and non-stick cookware. They’re also used in fire-fighting foam at military installations, leading to contamination at scores of military bases, including the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in suburban Philadelphia.

The chemicals pose a significant public health risk. They’ve been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, the Capital-Star reported in 2020.

In a statement, DEP said the proposed rules will set stricter ceilings than standards currently used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This rule-making not only protects our environment from elevated levels of contamination and pollution, but also protects the public health of Pennsylvanians,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.

Photo via

The state-level action comes amid a time of heightened action on the federal level when it comes to the contaminants.

The Biden administration has announced what it’s describing as an “accelerated effort,” spread across a variety of federal agencies, to protect Americans from the contaminants, this column reported last month. Those agencies include the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“To safeguard public health and protect the environment, the efforts being announced will help prevent PFAS from being released into the air, drinking systems, and food supply, and the actions will expand cleanup efforts to remediate the impacts of these harmful pollutants,” the administration said in a fact-sheet announcing the initiative.

In July, the majority-Democrat U.S. House passed legislation that would not only regulate the chemicals, but also designate them as hazardous substances that would spark federal cleanup standards, the Capital-Star previously reported.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican whose Bucks County-based district has been impacted by the contaminants, was one of 23 GOP lawmakers who crossed over to vote with Democrats on the bill.

In an email, David Masur, the executive director of the advocacy group PennEnvironment, welcomed the state’s action, with some caveats.

“It’s great that state officials are recognizing the significant threat posed by PFAS and taking steps to address this pollution,” he said “Most importantly, it’s good that state officials are setting relatively low limits on 2 types of PFAS in drinking water.

“But if we’re going to fully protect public health, state leaders must do more and move faster–there are thousands of types of PFAS and other states have set limits on more of them,” Masur continued. “If we’re going to regulate PFAS 2-by-2, we’ll never get through the list of thousands and truly protect public health.”

Speaking of caveats, it’s going to be a while before these regulations have any teeth to them. While it’s an important first step, Tuesday’s vote by the EQB was just that — a first step.

And if you’ve ever seen the Schoolhouse RockI’m Just a Bill” cartoon, well, that’s a cake walk compared to what lies ahead.

Here’s the rundown, according to the state’s official chapter-and-verse:

After Tuesday’s initial EQB vote, the proposed regulations still must be reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Office of General Counsel and the Governor’s Budget Office, within Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Once that happens, the proposed rules are published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which is expected to come next year. That, in turn, sparks a 60-day public comment period. The state also will hold at least five public hearings on the proposed rule change.

After gathering all that comment, the rules go back to the Environmental Quality Board, which votes on whether to adopt a final regulation. The rules then get a legislative review, as well as a vote by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

If the rules clear IRCC and legislative review, the rules go back to the Attorney General’s Office for one more look-see. If all is well, it gets published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin again, and then, and only then, has the full force of law.

The thing about water, though: sooner or later it gets to where it needs to go.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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The House comes in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Transportation Committee
9:30 a.m., 523 Irvis: House Human Services Committee
10 a.m., Capitol Steps: Drone Awareness Day (Could be the flying machines, could be pithy commentary on the state of our debate. Who can tell?)
10 a.m., University of the Sciences, Philadelphia: Senate Environmental Resources &  Energy Committee
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee
10 a.m., B31 Main Capitol: House Commerce Committee
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: Brain Injury Awareness Day rally including injury survivors speaking
1:30 p.m., Capitol Steps: Rally for Fair School Funding
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Jim Cox
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Seth Grove
11:30 a.m.: Luncheon for Sen. Pat Browne
Ride the circuit, and give. at the max, and you’re out a mere $6,500 today.

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Wednesday’s Hockey Link
Carolina bested Vegas 4-2 in a late game out west on Tuesday night. The red-hot ‘Canes are 12-2, and sit atop the Metropolitan Division.

And now you’re up to date.

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