Water contaminant bills report out of subcommittee

January 23, 2020

Two bills seeking to study and address certain chemical contaminants in Virginia’s drinking water have survived their first subcommittee hearings and will now move forward to the full committee.

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 and more attention lately, as there is growing concern over the links to pollution and their existence in water supplies and various medical ailments.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to study and address PFAS contamination for some time and is in fact currently working to determine maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), the legal limit on the amount of a substance that is allowed in public drinking water.

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.

HB 586 was amended several times prior to its passing.  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.  After robust debate, HB 586 was recommended for reporting by a vote of 7-0.

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 necssary; (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 encountered more issues than HB 586, primarily given that it requires – not permits as necessary – the Board to establish MCLs, regardless of any state findings about them.  Given this problem, Delegate Rasoul opted to amend his bill to include a delayed enactment clause, postponing the bill from taking effect until July 1, 2022.  This allows for the study directed by HB 1257 to be completed before any MCLs or further regulations are established.  Additionally, the language authorizing the board to establish any other MCLs if other states set new limits was stricken from the bill.  Eventually, HB 1257 made it out of subcommittee by a 5-2 vote, though the members indicating they still would like to work on this bill in committee.

With HB 586 and HB 1257 surviving subcommittee, both bills will now be heard by the House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee.  They will likely be taken up on Tuesday, January 28.

VACo will continue to monitor these bills.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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