Water Associations Send Letter to Congress Regarding CERCLA Exemption for PFAS

May 2, 2022
The letter encourages Congress to pose a water system exemption if PFAS are designated as CERCLA hazardous substances. 

A letter from 10 water associations to Congress regarding The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) notes that a hazardous substance designation under CERCLA could pose severe unintended consequences on water systems. 

The letter encourages Congress to pose a water system exemption if PFAS are designated as CERCLA hazardous substances. CERCLA, also known as Superfund, provides a federal Superfund to: clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites; and clean up accidents, spills, and other releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. 

According to the U.S. EPA, CERCLA seeks out the parties responsible for any release and the subsequent cooperation in the cleanup. PFAS chemicals come through the raw influent that arrives at the treatment plant, which comes from domestic, commercial, and industrial sources.

This is especially harmful for those who do not produce, use, or profit from PFAS being placed into commerce, according to the joint letter. According to the letter, the designation of PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances may shift the clean-up and liability costs onto municipalities and the public, which can be costly.

Instead, the associations urge Congress to provide more funding to research PFAS removal and its exposure pathways.

An example cited in the letter is that when drinking water or water reuse utilities remove PFAS from source water, they are then responsible for the disposal of the filter media. However, if the disposal location ever becomes a Superfund site, the water utility could be held liable. Ultimately local ratepayers would be tasked to cover the cleanup bill having already paid to remove the PFAS from the source water, added the letter.

In the joint letter, the organizations “request that Congress provide an explicit exemption from liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) if PFAS chemicals are designated as hazardous substances.”

Additionally, the joint letter states: 

“We are extremely concerned that, without a water sector exemption for PFAS, CERCLA will, ironically impose cleanup liability on utilities protecting public health and safety—but not on the chemical and manufacturing companies who profited by placing PFAS into commerce as “useful products” but took no role in a product’s ultimate disposal. This will leave the water sector and communities squarely on the hook through their everyday water treatment activities.”

Another suggestion made by the association included a push for Congress to continue to rely on the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). 

The follow associations signed off on the joint letter are: 

  • American Water Works Association 
  • Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies 
  • National Association of Clean Water Agencies 
  • National Association of Water Companies 
  • National Rural Water Association 
  • National Water Resources Association 
  • Water Environment Federation 
  • WateReuse Association 
  • Association of California Water Agencies 
  • California Association of Sanitation Agencies
About the Author

Cristina Tuser

Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).
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