Lawmakers advance bills to block, remove harmful chemicals from drinking water

The two bills may soon become one.

Lawmakers are again working to reduce the prevalence in Florida’s drinking water of long-lasting chemicals with bad bearings on human health through two bills that may unite before the end of Session.

One focuses on the source of chemicals: industrial producers of common, everyday-used products. The other concerns itself with what comes out of the tap.

Both cleared first legislative hurdles Tuesday, when the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee gave unanimous approval.

The first bill (SB 1692) heard Tuesday would create the not-so-catchily named “PFAS and 1,4-Dixoane Pretreatment Initiative” within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

As its name suggests, the program’s purpose would be to work with companies on keeping the chemicals out of the water.

The second measure (SB 1546) would require DEP to establish a maximum contaminant level for 1,4-dioxane in drinking water and compel Florida’s water treatment facilities to bring groundwater wells into compliance.

To ensure that happens, the bill would also require DEP to provide the facilities funding for infrastructure upgrades.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals used in countless products between the 1940s and early 2000s. Though their use in domestic manufacturing has since been widely discontinued, they are still found in imported goods. And because they are hydrophobic and don’t break down in water or soil, the so-called “forever chemicals” remain at higher-than acceptable levels in many public water supplies.

1,4-dixoane, meanwhile, is a synthetic ether most frequently used as a solvent in products that produce suds, such as shampoos, toothpaste and some hair dyes.

Short-term exposure — ingestion, generally — to both can lead to various bodily irritations. Exposure over longer terms has been linked in animal testing to liver and kidney maladies, among other illnesses, and federal and international research has concluded both are likely cancerous to humans.

“PFAS is in everything,” said Lake Mary Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, the sponsor of SB 1546 who has worked on the issue for years. “It’s in hamburger wrappers and Pam cooking spray and you go down the list, (and while) we’re waiting to have some guidance from (the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection), we’re going to start moving a little faster.”

Brodeur’s bill would give all industrial companies identified by Florida wastewater plants as sources of PFAS and/or 1,4-dioxane until July 1, 2027, to create pretreatment programs significantly mitigating or eliminating their discharge.

At least a year before that, DEP would give notice to the companies, collect on-site samples and provide recommendations for “best management practices and other corrective actions.”

Beginning July 1, 2025, and until they establish their pretreatment programs, the bill would limit new discharges of the substances.

Similarly, SB 1546 would require DEP to establish a statewide drinking water maximum contaminant level for 1,4-dioxane of 0.35 micrograms per liter, the level set federally in 2012 and by the Florida Department of Health three years later.

To that end, the bill calls for all public water systems to develop mitigation plans bringing the chemical’s concentration level below the maximum within five years and submit them to DEP for approval. They would also have to retest their waters at a frequency DEP determines and make information about both the mitigation plan and testing results publicly available.

These undertakings are likely to incur added expenses, and SB 1546 provides for them by requiring DEP to cover up to 20% of the cost for a public water system to make necessary infrastructure upgrades.

The bill’s sponsor, Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, cited reporting by the Orlando Sentinel about 1,4-dioxane that leaked into the groundwater under a former Siemens plant in the city.

She said she’d spoken with Brodeur about the prospect of combining their efforts.

“We will continue to see if we can’t merge the bills,” she said.

The first hearings and votes Tuesday on Brodeur and Stewart’s bills came a month and a half after House lawmakers received a presentation on the persistent health threats PFAS pose to Sunshine State residents.

John November, executive director of the Public Trust for Conservation, echoed some of the concerns expressed during that presentation Tuesday, particularly with regard to how ubiquitous the chemicals are and how tough it is to avoid them.

“Controlling FAS in the domestic setting is very challenging. We all use these products that contain PFAS, (and) we don’t blame these individual users, these individual companies, for having PFAS because we want waterproof jackets. We want pants that don’t stick,” he said.

“However, there are alternative processes. There are ways to clean out these systems.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in June 2022 directing DEP to immediately begin adopting statewide rules to clean up PFAS. Around the same time, the state Environmental Protection Agency announced it would earmark $1 billion in federal infrastructure law funds toward reducing PFAS and other drinking water contaminants.

Some local governments in Florida have taken steps to deal with the issue themselves, including Miami-Dade, whose County Commission in July 2020 authorized its administration to join a class-action lawsuit against companies like Chemours Co., 3M Co. and DuPont de Nemours Inc. that make or use the chemicals.

Last June, DuPont and Chemours announced they would be entering into a $1.2 billion agreement with public water systems across the U.S. Later that month, 3M announced a settlement of $10.3 billion.

One of the attorneys representing more than 4,000 plaintiffs in the case was Robert Bilott, who brought forth the first PFAS case in 1999. Actor Mark Ruffalo portrayed Bilott in the 2019 feature film, “Dark Waters,” and the work Bilott’s team did was also depicted in the 2018 documentary, “The Devil We Know.”

SB 1692 will next go to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government, after which it has one more committee stop before reaching a floor vote. Its House companion (HB 1665) by Highland Beach Republican Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, awaits the first of three committee hearings.

SB 1546 has the same trajectory as SB 1692, and its House companion (HB 1533) also has yet to be heard.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • My Take

    January 24, 2024 at 12:50 am

    “And because they are hydrophobic and don’t break down in water or soil, the so-called “forever chemicals” remain at higher-than acceptable levels in many public water supplies.”
    They probably wanted “hydrophilic” here.

    • Sam Thyme

      January 24, 2024 at 11:46 am

      Sort of. PFAS are an oddity. They have a carbon-fluorine “tail” and a nonfluorinated “head.” The tail is hydrophobic and lipophobic, which makes them so great for non-stick cookware, rain jackets, etc. The head groups are polar and hydrophilic.

      • My Take

        January 24, 2024 at 2:11 pm

        Similar to soaps apparently.

Comments are closed.


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