House bill deals with PFAs, drinking water

By WV MetroNews Staff

February 10, 2023

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

PFAS are a family of chemicals found in thousands of commonly used products, and while the effects of many of them are unknown, some are known to be dangerous to human health. They’ve captured the attention of Congress and of the state Legislature.

On Thursday, the House Energy Committee approved HB 3189, the PFAS Protection Act – targeting PFAS in drinking water.

It says PFAS are used in the industrial, food, automotive, aerospace, electronics, oil and gas, green energy, and textile industries. They are used in some fire-fighting foams, food packaging, cleaning products, semiconductors, computers, cellular phones, electric vehicle batteries, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, agricultural pesticides, oil and gas development, defense equipment, hydrogen production, and various other household items.

Many are very stable, the bill says, some accumulate in the environment, and many are highly water soluble, easily transferring through soil to groundwater.

HB 3189 follows on the heels of a Department of Environmental Protection Study ordered in 2020, performed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Mandirola told the members that the study tested the water at all 279 of the state’s raw water intakes. Initial results show 37 of the sites had PFAS levels above the EPA’s drinking water health advisory. But EPA then lowered the thresholds, adding 100 more sites under the new advisories.

Under the new direction ordered in the bill, DEP will go back, resample the finished (treated) water from those sites and try to determine the sources. Industries that use PFAS chemicals must report their usage to the DEP. And DEP will, to the extent data is available, consider ways to address the sources and mitigate the impacts on public water systems.

All this will be done, Mandirola said, while EPA is working on a new set of rules.

Delegates pointed out several challenges. Some of the EPA levels are undetectable with current technology. And one delegate asked, “If it’s everywhere, how do you solve it? I just don’t see what we can do.”

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Mandirola answered that delegate, “What it allows us to do is gather information to try to understand the issues that are out there,” to identify sources, potentially clean them up, and possibly tap into federal funds to ease the burden for local water systems.

While some delegates were troubled by the magnitude of problem, lead sponsor Clay Riley, R-Harrison, called the plan “a prudent and reasonable step.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, pointed out that in Congress, addressing PFAS is a bipartisan issue led by Republicans, particularly Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.

The bill passed in a voice vote with no dissent and goes to Judiciary.

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