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PFAS are emerging as an issue for counties

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Chemicals called PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are an emerging issue for county governments across the country.

PFAS refers to an entire class of approximately 600 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in commerce, of which perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were historically the most widely used throughout the United States.  These chemicals have been found in people, the environment, wildlife and fish all over the world; do not break down easily in the environment; might affect people’s health and are the subject of increasing regulation worldwide.

Learn More

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EPA's PFAS Action plan

On March 3, NACo and select federal partners are holding a session on the topic of PFAS and the county level perspective at NACo’s Legislative Conference. Speakers will include representatives of the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA). Here’s more about the speakers and subjects of the federal panel.

Rebeckah Adcock will speak on behalf of the USDA. Adcock serves as a senior advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Upon her arrival, the Secretary designated Adcock as Regulatory Reform Officer (RRO) and Regulatory Policy Officer (RPO), where she leads the effort to ease the burden of overregulation and ensure that regulatory actions are properly prioritized and implemented. 

Since November 2018, USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) has worked with FDA and other federal partners on defining the potential exposure to PFAS through meat. Recently, the focus was on an isolated PFAS contamination incident at a dairy in New Mexico where FSIS conducted a collaborative study regarding impacts to the herd and to derive data that may be used to establish risk management options in other exposure situations. FSIS has worked with FDA to determine the framework of an approach that can be used in isolated incidents. Adcock will discuss current efforts to assist agricultural producers and ensure a safe food supply.

Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., will speak for the FDA. Mayne is the director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA. In this position, Mayne leads the center’s development and implementation of programs and policies related to the composition, quality, safety, and labeling of foods, food and color additives, and cosmetics. The FDA foods program is responsible for approximately 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, which includes approximately $400 billion in domestic food and $50 billion in imported food.

The FDA reviews all available scientific evidence when determining the safety of foods and food packaging and conducts our own research to fill in gaps in scientific data. This includes the FDA’s work to ensure the safety of foods when detectable levels of PFAS are found. The FDA has been working to develop new methods to quantify certain PFAS in foods and, at the end of October, posted a scientifically validated method for testing for 16 types of PFAS in representative food groups on its website.

Mayne will be updating participants on FDA’s work measuring PFAS concentrations in food and assessing exposure from foods. She will also speak to FDA’s efforts to support state and local governments in responding to known or possible contamination events that may have implications for human or animal food. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Maureen Sullivan, will represent the Department of Defense (DoD). Her responsibilities include DoD’s policies and programs related to cleanup of contaminated sites, compliance with environmental laws, fire and emergency services, strategic sustainability planning and addressing emerging contaminants such as PFAS. Sullivan will discuss the actions the DoD has taken to achieve the department’s three goals with regard to addressing PFAS, including future plans and actions under the FY20 NDAA.

The DoD’s three goals are:

  • mitigating and eliminating the use of AFFF
  • better understanding the impacts of PFAS on human health
  • fulfilling our cleanup responsibility related to PFOS and PFOA.

DoD remains committed to the health and safety of our men and women in uniform, their families and the communities in which they serve.  DoD proactively addressed drinking water impacted by DoD releases. No one is currently drinking water above the health advisory level, on or off base, where DoD is the known source.

DoD follows the CERCLA process to fully investigate releases, prioritize responses, and determine appropriate cleanup actions based on risk. CERCLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known also as Superfund. It was passed in 1980 in response to some alarming and hazardous waste practices and management going on in the 1970s.



NACo members will also hear from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is committed to supporting states, tribes and local communities in addressing challenges with PFAS. As a part of this effort, the EPA is taking action to identify solutions to address PFAS in the environment. 

In 2016, the EPA issued a lifetime health advisory for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion.  In February 2019, EPA published its PFAS Action plan, which outlines concrete steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health.

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About Miranda Paley (Full Bio)

Miranda Paley is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Technology Policy Fellow in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment.