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Peters Bipartisan Bill to Reduce the Spread of Toxic PFAS at Commercial Airports Advances in Senate

Bill Allows Airports Increased Access to Testing Devices That Limit PFAS Exposure; Effort Builds on Peters’ Previous Work to Ban the Use of Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS

WASHINGTON, DC ­­– Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to reduce the spread of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination at commercial airports has advanced in the Senate. The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act, would deploy more existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for commercial airports to purchase devices necessary to test their firefighting equipment without discharging toxic PFAS chemicals. This legislation would encourage commercial airports to purchase the relatively low-cost devices – also referred to as an input-based testing system – to help limit and prevent exposure to PFAS, which are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down. It would also direct the FAA to identify options for reimbursing airports in Michigan and elsewhere that already acquired the devices without federal funding. Peters’ legislation was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee where Peters is a member, in addition to Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight and Ports.

“PFAS contamination poses a serious risk to the health of first responders, veterans, and residents in our communities, and continues to threaten local ecosystems and the environment. It’s clear that more must be done to mitigate these toxic chemicals,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense and fiscally-responsible bill would incentivize commercial airports nationwide to utilize existing federal funds to buy testing equipment that prevents the spread of PFAS contamination into the environment. The bill would also make this equipment more affordable, while protecting our airports, first responders, families, and the Great Lakes – and I’ll keep fighting to get it passed into law.”

“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,” said Senator Moran. “I’m pleased this legislation will now go to the full Senate for consideration, to promote the health and wellness of firefighters and aviation employees at commercial airports, as well as protect the communities that surround them.”

“The FAA requires regular testing of firefighting equipment, which may put undue burdens on regional, commercial airports, and lead to the discharge of harmful chemicals like PFAS,” said Senator Capito. “Specifically, the Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act would benefit several airports in West Virginia – like Yeager, Greenbrier, and Mid-Ohio Valley – and improve overall safety of their operations. This bill would enable them to purchase equipment to test their airport rescue and firefighting equipment without dispersing PFAS foam, and I’m glad the committee voted to advance it today.”

“As we work to ensure the safety of all travelers and airport workers, reducing the spread of toxic substances must be a priority,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This bill will make a real difference by aiding airports in obtaining the equipment needed to help prevent toxic substance contamination. Now that it has passed the Commerce Committee, I look forward to it passing the Senate and being signed into law.”  

“PFAS contaminations around airports is a serious problem with a very easy solution. With simple testing solutions that are already funded under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program, we can protect the environment without creating more burdensome regulations on small airports around Wyoming,” said Senator Lummis. “Thank you Senator Peters for your work on this legislation.”

“We’ve known for decades that some PFAS chemicals pose a dangerous risk to public health,” said Senator Duckworth. “Despite this knowledge, we’ve continued to use these harmful foams to put out fires—especially at airports—and continued to allowed them to seep into our ground, our water and ultimately to our neighbors and loved ones. We need to do more to reduce the spread of toxic PFAS contamination using common-sense solutions that are already available. I’m proud to see this bill pass out of committee today.”

The FAA has required commercial airports nationwide to use firefighting foam that contains toxic PFAS chemicals. For years airports were required to discharge this foam as part of routine, federally-mandated testing of their firefighting equipment. This put firefighters, the environment and the public at risk from exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals.

The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act – which Peters introduced with U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) – would make more funding from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program available to commercial airports to purchase devices that avoid discharging PFAS chemicals when testing firefighting equipment. It would also direct the FAA to identify options for reimbursing airports in Michigan and elsewhere that already acquired the devices without federal funding.

Peters has led the charge in the Senate to address PFAS contamination. As Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he convened a hearing in December examining Department of Defense failures to protect servicemembers, military families and Michigan communities from PFAS exposure. His bill to help protect firefighters and emergency responders from PFAS exposure in the line of duty has passed the Senate.

Last year, Peters released a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shows the federal government needs to take further action to clean up and prevent contamination from PFAS and helped pass the bipartisan infrastructure law, which invests in clean drinking water and includes dedicated funding to address PFAS contamination. He supported or led provisions in the 2019 national defense bill banning the Department of Defense from purchasing firefighting foams containing PFAS. The bill also immediately prohibited the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS in military training exercises, and enhanced state cooperation with the Department of Defense regarding clean-up due to PFAS contamination stemming from military-related activities. He authored and enacted into law in 2018 a provision allowing airports to discontinue the use of firefighting foams with PFAS. In September 2018, Peters helped convene the first hearing on PFAS contamination in the Senate, assessing the federal response to contamination and remediation. He then convened a field summit in Grand Rapids in November 2018 to shine a light on how the local, state and federal governments are coordinating their response to PFAS.

Below are statements in support of Peters’ bipartisan legislation:

“At Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, our fire department utilizes an input-based testing system,” said Chad Newton, CEO, Wayne County Airport Authority. “It is portable, which means we can test multiple trucks, saving money and reducing the environmental impact. If the system was funded at 100-percent federal share, as Senator Peters is considering in his legislation, that would help airports throughout Michigan and the country. We all want to ensure we have the best firefighting equipment, at the same time preventing harmful chemicals from reaching our water systems. This proposed bill would also help the smaller departments that cannot afford this technology.”

“Toxic PFAS contamination is a major threat in communities across Michigan, and this legislation will help reduce exposure to PFAS at commercial airports, one of the key sources of contamination,” said Bentley Johnson, Federal Government Affairs Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We commend Sen. Peters and sponsors of this legislation for taking proactive steps to protect our health and begin to start tackling this water contamination crisis.”

“Cherry Capital Airport applauds Senator Peters’ bipartisan efforts to secure funding for input-based testing equipment for Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicles. This equipment allows airports to meet their regulatory vehicle testing requirements without discharging firefighting foam containing PFAS. This step in a road of many brings the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) closer to the goal of eliminating PFAS chemicals from impacting our soil and water,” said Kevin Klein, CEO of the Northwest Regional Airport Authority and Director of the Cherry Capital Airport. “Cherry Capital Airport looks forward to the day that the FAA accepts and implements a new firefighting foam that will protect the flying public.”

“MAAE supports this bill which will allow airports to acquire input-based testing equipment through the AIP, so they can perform required ARFF vehicle testing without introducing AFFF into the environment,” said Miles Weaver, President of the Michigan Association of Airport Executives and Airport Operations Manager at Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field. “MAAE appreciates Senator Peters’ leadership to assist airports not only in Michigan but nationwide in addressing this aspect of the PFAS issue.”

“Environmental stewardship is a top priority for airport executives, and AAAE appreciates this bipartisan effort to enhance the federal government’s support for airports to safely test aqueous film forming foam (AFFF),” said American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) President & CEO Todd Hauptli. “While airports eagerly await federal approval of PFAS-free foam and significant long-term federal support to transition from FAA-mandated AFFF, this legislation is a positive step forward that merits support.  We are grateful to Senator Peters and his colleagues for continued leadership on this important issue.”

“We appreciate Senators Peters and Moran working together to help airports acquire additional firefighting foam testing carts. The 2018 FAA reauthorization law directed the FAA to certify a fluorine-free alternative firefighting foam for airports to use, and we look forward to that work concluding in a timely manner and to the establishment of a national transition plan for fluorine-free foams,” said Annie Russo, Chief Political and Congressional Strategy Officer at Airports Council International – North America. “In the meantime, airports welcome this assistance in getting new carts to capture firefighting foam discharged during FAA-mandated certification tests.”

“It is crucial that airports have the resources necessary to extinguish fires safely and minimize the environmental impact of fighting these fires. The IAFC thanks Senator Peters for introducing this legislation, which will greatly assist airports in meeting both needs,” said Chief Kenneth Stuebing, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“Fire fighters dedicate their lives to protecting others. While saving others and making their communities better places to live, these brave men and women continue to experience exposures to toxic PFAS-laden firefighting foams subjecting them to higher risks of cancer and other serious health effects,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “This is unacceptable. The IAFF supports Senators Peters’ legislation providing for foam containment devices to be installed on aircraft firefighting vehicles, and on behalf of our 326,000 members, I commend him for his continuous efforts to help protect fire fighters and the communities they serve from unnecessary PFAS exposure.”

“We applaud Senator Peters for finding creative solutions to limit the use of PFAS containing fire-fighting foam at airports here in the Great Lakes region through more affordable access to emergency testing equipment,” said Jennifer Hill, Associate Director of the Great Lakes Regional Center of National Wildlife Federation. “The use of AFFF here in Michigan has resulted in PFAS contamination consumption advisories for deer, fish, and wildlife, both in local communities and the Great Lakes. PFAS contamination is impacting the water resources, fish and wildlife we value as Michiganders – and has real consequences for the Great Lakes outdoor economy if we don’t work together, alongside impacted communities, to address its sources.”