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Bill to limit PFAS exposure near airports heads to Biden’s desk

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A piece of bipartisan legislation to crack down on potential PFAS exposure from commercial airports will head to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act was written by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, and championed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The bill would open up more funding from the Federal Aviation Administration to allow airports to purchase tools that can test firefighting equipment without releasing PFAS chemicals.

“By making testing equipment that prevents the spread of PFAS contamination more affordable for airports, we can better protect not only our environment but also families, first responders and the Great Lakes from these toxic chemicals,” Peters said in a release.

PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is a giant group of chemical compounds. They were first developed in the 1940s and incorporated into all sorts of products in the years that followed, including non-stick pans, nail polish, eye makeup and dental floss. However, years later it was discovered that the chemical compounds do not break down naturally and can build up in the human body, causing several health issues, including cancer.

For decades, airports across the country have used a special foam that contains PFAS to put out fires. When the foam is used — including regular testing — it releases PFAS into the nearby environment.

“Commercial airports should have the necessary equipment to test their firefighting equipment in a manner that does not expose firefighters or the surrounding communities to toxic PFAS foams,” U.S. Sen Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said in a release. “Passing this legislation in the Senate will help promote the health and wellness of firefighters and aviation employees at commercial airports, as well as protect the communities that surround them.

In 2018, Target 8 discovered that several wells near the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Cascade Township tested positive for unsafe levels of PFAS. The township developed a plan to expand public water access in the impacted areas. That project is expected to be completed next year.  

The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act was first introduced in the Senate in February and unanimously passed in September. The House of Representatives passed the act with a few changes with a 381-42 vote. On Dec. 1, the Senate again unanimously approved the amended bill, sending it to President Biden for final approval.

It’s not the first PFAS-related bill introduced by Peters. He pushed for provisions to the 2019 national defense bill to ban the Department of Defense from buying any more firefighting foam containing PFAS and helped pass the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that includes funding dedicated specifically to addressing PFAS contamination.

He also helped introduce another piece of bipartisan legislation in June called the Federal PFAS Research Evaluation Act. That bill would require all federal agencies that deal with PFAS to work alongside the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on a consensus study to help shape future decisions on how to best address contamination. That bill is still up for discussion in the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.