bulldozer on landfill
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NWRA, SWANA seek relief from CERCLA liability for PFAS at landfills

Both organizations say they are concerned about significant unintended consequences if landfills were held liable under CERCLA for receiving per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

May 18, 2022

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) Arlington, Virginia, has joined with the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Silver Spring, Maryland, in urging Congress to provide the municipal solid waste industry with a narrow exemption from certain provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).  

The NWRA and SWANA have sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works, House Transportation and Infrastructure and House Energy and Commerce committees addressing its issues with the law.  

Both organizations say they are concerned that there would be significant unintended consequences if landfills were held liable under CERCLA for receiving per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The association states the regulation under CERCLA would assign environmental cleanup liability to essential public services and their customers.   

The result of the legislation would have three potential impacts. CERCLA regulation will impel landfills to restrict inbound wastes and/or increase disposal costs for media with elevated levels of PFAS, including filters, biosolids and impacted soils at Department of Defense facilities. The designation could result in communities diverting food waste from organics recycling programs because some food waste may contain PFAS due to the containers they are stored in. This will hinder federal, state and local climate and waste reduction goals.  

Additionally, the NWRA says cost increases will likely have a significantly disproportionate impact on low-income households that rely on the affordability of services that the solid waste sector provides.  

The organizations propose a narrow exemption from liability if certain PFAS are designated as hazardous substances under CERCLA. Doing so would keep CERCLA liability on the industries that originally created the pollution.  

“NWRA supports the goal of addressing PFAS contamination and holding accountable manufacturers and heavy users of these compounds,” says Darrel Smith, NWRA president and CEO. “We believe that a narrow exemption for the municipal solid waste industry serves to keep CERCLA liability on the industries that created the pollution. We urge Congress to support our request.”  

In the letter, NWRA and SWANA recommended legislative language to CERCLA that would grant the industry the narrow exemption it seeks. The letter and the language can be viewed here.