REGION – New developments at the state and federal levels have elected officials charting paths through a new phase in the response to PFAS contamination in local communities and around the country.
With new money now allocated to this fight, officials are noting some victories, while emphasizing updated priorities for additional work against what has been a chemical contaminant identified in numerous area water sources.
“This is an issue that should have been dealt with decades ago,” US Rep. Lori Trahan said in a recent question and answer session with the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce.
Federal legislation allocates PFAS-related funding
Trahan represents Hudson and Marlborough as part of the larger 3rd Congressional District. She’s spoken on the house floor in Washington D.C. about PFAS issues, mentioning crises in her home district on several occasions.
Back before her constituents for that virtual session with the Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 9, Trahan touted PFAS cleanup funding included in the recently passed federal infrastructure legislation.
That legislation also included $10 billion in funding to help avoid future issues like PFAS contamination that left large swaths of Hudson reliant on bottled water and/or in-home filters two years ago while town officials worked to set up more permanent solutions.
“Time isn’t on our side,” Trahan said of the PFAS threat. “We cannot just close our eyes and hope that the issue will vanish in a few years.”
As she spoke, Nov. 9, the latest draft of the federal Build Back Better Act had also been amended to include $800 million in grants for fire fighting equipment and foam that does not include PFAS chemicals.
That, Trahan said, was crucial, as firefighting foam in particular has been identified as being responsible for introducing some PFAS chemicals into the environment.
Trahan said she and Rep. James McGovern, who represents many other area communities in Congress, collaborated to advocate for that amendment.
The Build Back Better Act remained in Congress as of Nov. 29, though, as did a separate piece of legislation that Trahan has pushed for, known as the PFAS Action Act.
“Congress must pass this critical legislation to build on the progress we’ve made in the infrastructure package,” Trahan said of the Action Act on Nov. 9.
State task force moves forward
As Trahan pushes legislation in Congress, State Representative and House Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan is helping lead Massachusetts’ own PFAS task force.
That group is co-chaired by Hogan and Sen. Julian Cyr. It includes two other house representatives in addition to a long list of experts and stakeholders from outside of the state legislature.
The task force has held nine hearings since June of this year as it moves through a process of developing a report. The group will make recommendations and likely file legislation to address issues identified in the state’s current PFAS policy and laws.
“In looking to bring our agencies together, we’re also able to get a deeper understanding of how [PFAS is] affecting communities and what we can do better as a commonwealth to deal with PFAS in the environment,” Hogan said in an interview with the Community Advocate earlier this month.
Hogan, who represents Hudson as part of her house district, said she’s already seen some systems improve in the time since the height of Hudson’s PFAS crisis.
“The response from state government has been better,” she said. “Obviously, there are more monies now at play either for grants or ways to access funding for either remediation or filtration.”
She added, though, “What we’d like to do is make that easier and look to funding as a way to remove PFAS from all drinking water.”
Legislators envision state-federal collaboration on PFAS
Hogan sees a clear link between her state efforts and Trahan’s work in Congress.
“That will be important,” she said of the PFAS Action Act, which would, among other things, require the Environmental Protection Authority to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.
“I see it as really everybody working in tandem and everybody working together to ensure that we’re dealing with this particular chemical,” Hogan continued. “It’s a forever chemical. And it’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere.”
Facing PFAS at home, in area rivers and even outside of Massachusetts, Hogan has sights set on what government must do to continue its PFAS fight.
“It’s about trying to take a measured approach, but at the same time, with an abiding sense that this needs to be dealt with until we feel like our drinking water is safe from PFAS and that we’re dealing with it in all the other ways that it’s coming into our awareness,” she said.