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Congress should ban use of PFAS in firefighting foams at all airports

A key Senate committee missed a significant opportunity to protect the health of drinking water last week.

Toxic-Free Future and many of our state and national partners sought a federal ban on the use of firefighting foams containing the “forever chemicals” called PFAS, at commercial airports as part of the 2023 FAA Reauthorization Act. However, the bill that was “reported out” of the Senate Commerce committee last week did not contain this critical provision.

With all we know about how widespread PFAS pollution of our drinking water is, and how much the airports’ use of these foams contributes to that pollution, it is plain common sense that Congress should tell the FAA to prohibit their use, as Congress instructed the military to do four years ago.

The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act directed the FAA to allow use of PFAS-free foams at airports. The FAA has been waiting for the military to approve PFAS-free foams that meet certain performance standards. The military has now approved two PFAS-free foams. As these years have gone by, PFAS-free foams have been used successfully at airports around the world for many years.

The good news is that 12 states have enacted bans on the use of PFAS firefighting foams, which will also apply to airports in those states now that the FAA is allowing their use. Congress also put the military on a schedule to phase out its use by October 2024 in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

But, in the states without bans, their drinking water will not be protected without requiring that airport use safer, PFAS-free foams. Some airports may make use of the funding in the Senate bill to accomplish transitions, but that is not guaranteed.

Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) were able to get provisions in the bill passed by the Senate Commerce Committee that will provide $350 million in grants to airports to aid in their transitions to PFAS-free foams. That’s great news – the cost of purchasing PFAS-free foam, cleaning out or purchasing new fire trucks, and training firefighters to use the new foams will be considerable. 

The Senate committee missed a golden opportunity to prevent further contamination of our land, water, and our bodies by banning this dangerous class of chemicals.  

Toxic-Free Future and our allies will continue to press for a ban on PFAS in foam used at airports as the bill moves through the process. Next, the Senate bill will go to a floor vote, then to a conference between the House and Senate, with votes in both chambers before the final bill goes to the president’s desk. 

We urge Congress to take this rational step, save taxpayers millions in cleanup, water bills, and healthcare costs, and require that U.S commercial airports end their use of these unnecessary harmful foams.