Congress budget deal sets table for $7M PFAS study
Close. Tantalizingly close.
That’s where funding sits for an unprecedented, $7 million health study for Americans exposed to unregulated PFAS chemicals, potentially including tens of thousands in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
The subject of ongoing reporting by this news organization, perfluorinated compounds, also known as PFCs or PFAS, are toxic chemicals being found in the drinking water of millions of Americans. They have been used in products such as nonstick pans, stain-proof clothing, food packaging and firefighting foams, the latter of which is the source of widespread drinking water contamination near military bases in this region.
Congressional lawmakers have worked for more than a year to navigate a maze-like military appropriations process and win funding for a nationwide, five-year health study on residents exposed to the chemicals. A budget deal struck by congressional lawmakers early Friday morning following a brief government shutdown has brought the funding to the brink.
As part of the deal, lawmakers lifted caps on federal spending — both for the military and domestic programs — that had been in place since 2011. That removed a bottle neck on a bill authorizing $700 billion in military spending that passed last year; the bill included money for the health study, but had exceeded the budget caps.
The offices of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, Middletown, both said Friday the lifting of the caps clears the way for health study funding, but that the actual appropriations won’t take place until official spending bills are agreed to ahead of a March 23 deadline.
“The question now is whether the money will be included in the omnibus appropriations bill that (lawmakers) are writing,” Jacklin Rhoads, Casey’s press secretary, wrote in an email. “The Senate version of the defense appropriations bill has $10 million for the health study.”
Rhoads added that Casey had spoken with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee for defense appropriations, to “ensure” the funding was included.
A statement from Fitzpatrick’s office said the lifting of the caps would provide enough funding to “cover” the appropriations laid out in the previously passed military spending bill, and that the assumption is that PFAS measures “will be funded, based on the information available.”
“But until the appropriators distribute the money on (March 23), we won’t know for sure,” it added.
In addition to the health study, lawmakers are seeking tens of millions of dollars in increased funding for PFAS clean-up at military bases across the country. Casey and Fitzpatrick’s offices said Friday the status of those measures was the same as the health study.
Would a health study be funded, it would likely be conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As previously reported by this news organization, officials say such a study would focus on at least eight communities impacted by PFAS contamination from military bases across the country. Planning documents show Bucks and Montgomery County communities on a very short list of potential communities to be studied.
If funded, the study would likely attempt to determine how much of the chemicals residents were exposed to and whether or not those exposures are linked to health effects. Prior studies on humans and animals have linked the chemicals to health conditions including increased cholesterol, low birth weight babies, immunotoxicity, ulcerative colitis, and some cancers.