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Advocates: Proposed EPA cuts would slow PFAS cleanup

© iStock - Francesco Scatena - 1488767462
Brett Peveto

(Maryland News Connection) Environmental advocates said proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency will slow cleanup of toxic "forever chemicals," per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS in public drinking water and at military sites in Maryland and nationwide.

The House Appropriations Committee's budget for fiscal year 2024 would reduce funding for the EPA by nearly $4 billion, representing a 39 percent reduction over the current year, and driving funding down to levels last seen in 1991.

John Reeder, vice president for federal affairs for the Environmental Working Group, said in inflation-adjusted terms, the cut is much greater. 

"If you account for inflation and look at constant dollars, this funding level would take EPA back 50 years, to the early days of the EPA," Reeder pointed out. "It's a severe cut; it would devastate EPA."

In March, the EPA proposed a maximum limit for PFAS in drinking water of 4 parts per trillion. Over the summer, the agency released an analysis of drinking water and found PFAS levels greater than the minimum reporting limit in more than 400 public water supplies across the country.

PFAS are commonly used in firefighting foam, with military installations and adjacent areas seeing high levels of contamination. The Department of Defense has identified 700 sites of concern, with many affecting groundwater. Studies have identified eight contaminated military sites in Maryland.

Reeder noted the House budget proposal cuts $500 million dollars from the Department of Defense cleanup program.

"For the House to come in and cut it another $500 million will just absolutely result in more delay, more potential prolonged exposure for people in impacted communities, and ultimately, it's shortsighted," Reeder asserted. "The contamination is likely to continue to spread in groundwater, and PFAS is harmful to health at very low levels."

Research indicates PFAS exposure contributes to various health problems, including developmental delays in children, immune system suppression, hormonal disruption and an elevated risk of certain cancers.