Federal Airlines Bill to Help Scrap PFAS Across N.Y. Airports

May 16, 2024

May 15—ALBANY — A $105 billion omnibus bill that would set new air travel standards and funding for the Federal Aviation Administration would include $350 million for a novel grant program to ban the toxic foam that's often deployed in airports, including those in New York.

The bill, under consideration as the current law guiding the FAA is set to expire, passed the U.S. Senate late last week. It now awaits passage in the House of Representatives.

Tucked into the legislation is a program that would allocate funds to help airports overhaul their use of firefighting foam that contains the chemical substances categorized as PFAS.

The program to curb PFAS comes amid heightened acknowledgement of their presence in drinking water, including in the Capital Region, where residents of Hoosick Falls and area environmentalists have waged a years-long war against PFAS contamination. That ultimately culminated in state investigations and settlements from the companies held responsible.

In 2023, the federal Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that no amount of PFAS is safe for drinking water and said there should be a maximum legal level imposed by municipalities.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the new grant program would help fire departments in New York and nationwide transition to non-toxic foam.

"Our first responders shouldn't have to expose themselves to harmful equipment with unnecessary PFAS to do their jobs and save lives," Schumer said in a statement. "Our airports previously faced an impossible task of how they could transition to PFAS-free foam alternatives and replace contaminated equipment, but now they will be able to apply for federal support to accelerate that transition."

The PFAS Replacement Program for Airports will free up federal cash for the federal Department of Transportation, charged with aiding airports as they dispose of the old material and transition to more environmentally friendly firefighting foam. Funding will also go towards training and decontamination of equipment.

The larger aviation bill is also moving through Congress at a time when major airlines have faced intense scrutiny after a series of much-publicized incidents, including several involving Boeing's 737 Max aircraft models that led to a congressional hearing in April.

It would also include numerous consumer protection measures such as improved refund policies for delayed flights.

PFAS substances have emerged as one of the most potent threats to public water supplies in recent years due to their prevalence and chemistry. They are known as "forever chemicals" due to their persistence in the environment and in bloodstreams of those who are exposed. Hoosick Falls residents, for instance, had levels in their blood many times as high as most people; numerous residents suffered from thyroid disorders and rare cancers, and only in recent years discovered they had high levels of the chemicals in their blood.

The village's water had been contaminated by manufacturing plants in the area.

PFAS has also been used in a variety of household products including Teflon, food packaging and firefighting foam used at dozens of military bases and firehouses. The chemicals in products used by firefighters and first responders would often wash down and infiltrate water supplies and ground soil, increasing the risk of cancer for residents and for firefighters themselves.


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