Water agencies endorse Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act

May 5, 2023
New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate may help hold polluters accountable for PFAS cleanup costs under CERCLA — and the act is supported by prominent water organizations.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) joined other members of the Water Coalition Against PFAS in endorsing a new legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate that would hold polluters accountable for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) cleanup costs.

Titled the “Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act,” the legislation would hold polluters accountable for cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Other members of the Water Coalition Against PFAS include the American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Rural Water Association (NRWA), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

"CERCLA is intended to hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause to our environment. But in the case of PFAS, the law could allow those responsible for producing the chemicals to pass off cleanup liability to community water systems that must remove the contaminants from their source waters," said AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins. "AMWA supports the Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act because it would close this loophole and ensure that polluters — and not innocent water system ratepayers — get the bill for CERCLA cleanups related to PFAS. We urge all senators to support this 'polluter pays' legislation."

Last year, EPA formally announced plans to designate two of the most common PFAS — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) — as hazardous substances under CERCLA. If finalized, this designation could put drinking water utilities at risk of incurring cleanup liability when they take necessary steps to remove and dispose of PFAS deposited into water supplies by upstream polluting industries. In addition, wastewater and stormwater utilities could also be put at risk as they receive PFAS chemicals through the raw influent that arrives at the treatment plan or through municipal stormwater runoff.

While EPA has announced an "enforcement discretion" policy that intends to focus on polluters that are responsible for the contamination and have profited from PFAS, such a policy will be insufficient to ensure that drinking water and clean water ratepayers will be permanently protected from CERCLA legal defense costs and cleanup liability for PFAS.