On Dec. 11, the House of Representatives passed S. 1790, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report. The Senate followed suit on Dec. 17, bringing an end to protracted negotiations on this annual must-pass legislation. In one of their final acts, conferees agreed to provisions addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Two major provisions – designation of PFAS as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) hazardous substances and requirements to promulgate PFAS drinking water standards – were left out of the bill. Their absence, and the controversy they engendered, have diverted attention from the many significant PFAS provisions that did make it into the final NDAA package. The NDAA represents Congress’ first major response to public concern about these “forever” chemicals, and the NDAA provisions signal that much more is to come from Congress on the subject of PFAS.
The NDAA PFAS provisions are focused for the most part on the Department of Defense (DOD). They require DOD to stop using PFAS in firefighting foam and other applications, and to cooperate with affected communities and begin cleaning up resources contaminated by military PFAS uses. However, two provisions have much broader application.