Lou Leon Guerrero

Lou Leon Guerrero

Therese Terlaje

Therese Terlaje

A bill that aims to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the island’s drinking water has been introduced.

This is the third bill related to PFAS that has been introduced in the last few weeks.

Sen. Sabina Perez introduced Bill 174-35 on Friday. The proposed legislation sets a maximum contaminant level for six PFAS commonly found in drinking water, according to a Sunday news release.

“By establishing a maximum contaminant level, or legal threshold limit for PFAS, we are ensuring that these chemicals are monitored and reduced in our drinking water,” Perez stated in the release.

Additionally, the bill would require owners and operators of public water systems to issue public notices to people who are served by systems affected by PFAS, regardless of a violation of MCL.

Perez said Bill 174-35 is co-sponsored by Sen. Therese Terlaje and Vice Speaker Telena Nelson.

The levels proposed by the bill are set at 0.00007 milligrams per liter, or 70 nanograms per liter, for all community water systems and nontransient, noncommunity water systems. The PFAS that will be regulated are PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, PFHpA, and PFBS.

Other PFAS-related measures

On June 13, Terlaje introduced Bill 163.

Terlaje’s legislative proposal would authorize the Office of the Attorney General to enter into a contingency fee agreement with private counsel for the purpose of litigation related to harm or threat to Guam’s environment or harm to the people of Guam caused by the use of Agent Orange, PFOA, PFOS, PDBs, radiation or other contaminants.

On June 27, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero submitted a bill to the Legislature that also authorizes the AG’s office to enter into a contingency fee agreement. In her letter to the speaker, the governor calls for all haste in allowing the AG to find the "best legal experts." She called for an emergency session, which has been scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Guam Congress Building, Speaker Antonio R. Unpingco Legislative Session Hall in Hagåtña.

“We must educate ourselves on the the extent of damage caused by PFAS and identify those responsible (and) make certain that our waters be returned to their natural purity,” the governor stated in the letter.

Attorney General Leevin Camacho said his office “is committed to take legal action when necessary to protect Guam's natural resources.” 

“I concur with the governor that prompt action is needed to identify legal experts and file suit to protect Guam’s water and residents from the harmful effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS),” he stated.

It’s unclear why the second bill was necessary when the first bill introduced about two weeks prior had been submitted.

When the military instillation Naval Air Station Guam, the area now known as Tiyan, was shut down, the federal government gave Guam about $10 million to clean the site.

‘Forever chemicals’

Also known as “forever chemicals,” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a large family of toxic, synthetic compounds that are found in a wide range of products and industries, including but not limited to food packaging, firefighting foam, water-resistant clothing, electronics, construction, and automotive applications, her release stated.

The chemicals are resistant to most environmental degradation processes, and bioaccumulate over time, the release stated. Scientific studies suggest that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects, including increased cholesterol levels, decreased fertility among women, developmental effects on infants, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Common sources of PFAS contamination are Department of Defense installations, airports, fire training/fire response sites, industrial sites, landfills, and wastewater plants/biosolids. Resulting environmental contamination from these sites create additional PFAS exposure pathways through contaminated drinking water, contaminated soil and dust ingestion, and consumption of plants and animals that contain PFAS.

“Contaminated drinking water poses a particular threat, as vulnerable populations such as children, breast feeding or pregnant women, and babies drink more water and are the most susceptible to bioaccumulation,” Perez stated.

NAS-1 is located in Tiyan at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport and former Naval Air Station Agana, with A-23 and A-25 in near proximity. Currently, NAS1 is operational with a new filtration system, and A-23 and A-25 remain offline. GWA continues to monitor and filter for PFOS, and it has shut down affected wells until they can be properly filtered.

In 2016, the USEPA revised their drinking water health advisory level for PFAS at 70 ppt, or 70 ng/L. However, the USEPA’s HAL is nonenforceable, and the USEPA is in the process of establishing more stringent regulations for PFAS — a process that may take several years.

Many states, including New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan and Connecticut, have undertaken aggressive action to address PFAS in the absence of federal regulations, and they have adopted PFAS response levels based on the USEPA’s HAL or on their interpretations of various scientific studies. “We cannot rely on the federal government to regulate these chemicals swiftly; we must take action to prevent further PFAS exposure."

“This bill is a collaborative effort between our office and various agencies over the last few months. Regulating PFAS contamination in our drinking water will require further inter-agency collaboration and public involvement on all fronts,”  Perez said.

“PFAS are a major health and environmental concern whose impact is not only local or national, but global as well. Bill 174-35 is the crucial step to mitigate these chemicals and protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” she added.