“Forever Chemical” bills head to House floor

January 30, 2020

Two bills seeking to study and address certain chemical contaminants in Virginia’s drinking water have been reported out the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee and will be heard on the floor of the House of Delegates. Both bills attempt to focus on the growing concern over the threats of PFAS chemicals, which is the colloquial term for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These substances, also nicknamed “forever chemicals,” have earned more attention lately, as there is growing concern over their links to various medical ailments.

HB 586 (Guzman) directs the Commissioner of Health to convene a work group to study the occurrence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), and other perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the Commonwealth’s public drinking water and to develop recommendations for specific maximum contaminant levels for PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS for inclusion in regulations of the Board of Health applicable to waterworks.  In subcommittee, HB 586 was amended several times.  First, it was amended to include several additional chemical compounds to study to ensure the most comprehensive look at this topic possible. Second, amendments were made to clarify that the Board of Health may develop regulations as necessary, not shall, opening the door to allow for a report that does not recommend regulations.  And finally, the due date of the report was moved from December 1, 2020 to December 1, 2021.

VACo supports HB 586 (Guzman), which reported out of Committee to the full House by a unanimous vote (22-0).

The second bill, HB 1257 (Rasoul), directs the State Board of Health to adopt regulations establishing maximum contaminant levels in public drinking water systems for (i) PFOS, PFOA, and other PFAS compounds deemed necessary; (ii) chromium-6; and (iii) 1,4-dioxane. The bill requires such MCLs to be protective of public health, including the health of vulnerable subpopulations, and to be no higher than any MCL or health advisory adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the same contaminant. The bill directs the Board to consider certain studies in adopting such MCLs and to consider establishing other MCLs any time two or more other states set limits or issue guidance on a given contaminant.

HB 1257 has encountered more issues than HB 586, primarily given that it attempted to require – not permit as necessary – the Board to establish MCLs, regardless of any state findings about them. As such, HB 1257 has been altered several times, ultimately resulting in amendments that delay its enactment until January 1, 2022 and including new language that stipulates that MCLs will only be enacted as deemed necessary. HB 1257 narrowly reported from the Committee by a 13-9 vote.

Both pieces of legislation will now be heard on the House floor next week.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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