April 20, 2020
  • Ohio, Michigan pull back on water testing
  • ‘Essential’ water utilities continue work

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has stalled a range of efforts to address PFAS in drinking water, prompting concerns about what could happen if there’s a long-term delay.

The chemicals—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—have spread through drinking water, air, soil, and groundwater in many states. But the pandemic has delayed a federal study on the health effects of the chemicals, as well as PFAS testing and remediation efforts in Michigan and Ohio, where governors have issued stay-at-home orders and urged social distancing.

. . .

The Environmental Protection Agency said in an April 10 memo that its regional offices will consider the impacts of the coronavirus when determining whether cleanup at any site should continue.

PFAS is still a priority for many senators, said Marta Hernandez, communications director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. The next National Defense Authorization Act, which had been a successful vehicle for PFAS legislation for fiscal 2020, is still being drafted.

“It’s too early to comment on what will or won’t be included in the bill,” she said.

PFAS funding will also be a priority in the fiscal 2021 House appropriation bill for the EPA and other agencies, according to Hill staff.

. . .

Proceeding as Planned

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed other PFAS remediation efforts, including “essential” water utilities’ work.

Water district officials in Merrimack, N.H., have been working to install a treatment system for PFAS-contaminated drinking water “as quickly as they could,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) said.

That work is continuing as scheduled and should be completed by late summer, according to Jill Lavoie, business manager for the Merrimack Village District.

“Besides having some office staff working from home, the pandemic hasn’t posed a problem with the day to day operations of the MVD or construction of the treatment plant,” she said.

As an essential business, she said, “we are practicing social distancing, which isn’t difficult since most employees have their own vehicle.”

Water utilities generally haven’t experienced delays with installing treatment systems, said John A. Sheehan, of counsel at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC in Washington, whose specialties include environmental toxic torts. Much of the utilities’ focus has shifted to the safety of their workforce during the pandemic, he said.


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