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WASHINGTON D.C.- On Thursday, President Biden signed a collection of bills into law that aim to curb the impact of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals’, at airports nationwide.

The newly signed laws include a grant program for airports as they replace firefighting foams that contain PFAS as well as new requirements for reporting from federal agencies as airports phase out sources of PFAS.

“At the heart of these bills is a critical opportunity to confront the pervasive issue of PFAS contamination at airports head-on, while also championing sustainability and environmental responsibility on a broader scale,” explained Courtney Johnson, Director of Airports for San Luis Obispo County. “Both pieces of legislation demonstrate proactive steps that transcend individual airports, benefit the entire aviation community by safeguarding the environment, promote public health, and strengthen our industry.”

In January of this year, the County of San Luis Obispo filed a lawsuit against manufacturers of the fire-retardant foam used at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport after elevated levels of PFAS were detected.

The County of San Luis Obispo has an information page about PFAS here.

But the impact of PFAS was not only limited to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Martin Pehl, General Manager for Santa Maria Airport stated, “Like other regional airports, we followed federal rules and regulations on deploying these foams. Now, we applaud this effort to bring more federal support to help airports like ours transition to PFAS-free alternatives.”

Airports nationwide were required to use PFAS-containing firefighting foam by the Federal Aviation Administration which notified airports in September of 2023 that PFAS-free firefighting foams are now available as well as a transition plan for airports.

“This legislation underscores the essential role of federal support in our transition away from existing federally-mandated use of firefighting foam containing PFAS,” explained Chris Hastert, Santa Barbara Airport Director. “A federal commitment is vital for a successful and effective shift towards safer alternatives at all commercial service airports,” 

The batch of bipartisan aviation-focused bills, the Clean Airport Agenda, was created by members of the House Aviation Subcommittee over the past year including the Central Coast’s Representative Salud Carbajal.

“Clean and safe drinking water is paramount to protecting the health of our communities. But our regional airports pose risks to that threat through no fault of their own. Their use of foams containing PFAS chemicals was a requirement of the federal government, and so we should ensure the federal government is helping them phase out these chemicals once and for all,” said Congressman Carbajal. “My Clean Airport Agenda not only gives these airports a helping hand to transition to safer firefighting foams, but it also ensures we are holding federal agencies accountable for their plans to phase out these toxic tools.”

Representative Carbajal was joined by Representative Mike Lawler (R-NY-17) and Representative Derrick Van Orden (R-WI-3) in shepherding the bills through the legislative process and into law.

“I’m pleased that the Save our Airports Act has been incorporated into this year’s FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] Reauthorization Act,” said Congressman Lawler of New York. “I was proud to join my colleagues Representatives Carbajal and Van Orden to introduce this legislation last year, which will facilitate the transition of our nation’s airports away from the use of PFAS-containing foams, helping ensure the safety of travelers, airport staff, and surrounding communities. As a member of the bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force, ensuring that Americans are safe from PFAS chemical exposure remains one of my top concerns, and I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues in both parties on this important priority.”

“The federal government is long overdue in their work to combat the PFAS contamination they created,” added Congressman Van Orden of Wisconsin. “My constituents, and Americans across the nation, should be able to access safe, clean water.”

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