House Passes PFAS Chemicals Bill to Push Water Standards

WASHINGTON (CN) — House lawmakers passed a bill Friday for U.S. regulators to designate chemicals found in cooking spray, cosmetics and other grease-resistant products as health hazards.

Known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluorooctanoic substances (PFAS and PFOS), the chemicals have been found in groundwater sites across the nation. The Environmental Working Group — an activist group focused on research advocacy of toxic chemicals — released a study in November that found nearly 110 million Americans had been drinking PFAS-contaminated water.

A couple kayak on the Rogue River in Rockford, Mich., where private wells in the area have tested positive for elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS, also called perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs. A government report shows that such chemicals threaten human health at concentrations 7- 10 times lower than previously realized. (Neil Blake /The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

The bill passed this morning by lawmakers in a 247–159 vote allots funds for communities and federal agencies to address groundwater levels of the chemical after they study levels for a year. Another component of the PFAS Act of 2019 is setting enforceable standards for maximum PFAS and PFOS contaminant levels for drinking water, a standard federal agencies and states have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to set for years.

Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell, the bill’s sponsor, said Wednesday that legislative intervention was necessary after the standards recommended by the Trump administration last year fell short.

“Here is the reality,” the Democratic Dingell said in a statement. “EPA has completely abandoned its responsibility to act. We are not cleaning up contamination. We don’t even have a drinking water standard. Since I have been in Congress, every time EPA testifies they promise and nothing happens and that is why Congress must take action.”

The Trump administration released its PFAS action plan in February 2019, outlining that the EPA would propose a regulatory determination for this standard, along with other monitoring objectives, by the end of that year. Per the interim recommendations that the administration released in December, groundwater screening limits of PFAS is set at 70 parts per million for sources of drinking water.

As representatives debated the bill Thursday night, Dingell called her state “ground zero” for these chemicals. Standing beside a poster showing infected sites in the U.S. in red, she said the chemicals had affected both the state’s drinking water and locally sourced food.

“In my district, PFAS is in the water, in the Heron river and we can’t eat the fish,” Dingell said. “I was at a town hall meeting and a man got up, he was older and said to me, ‘I used to eat that fish. I relied on it. When will I be able to eat it again?’ And I didn’t want to say this to him, but the fact of the matter is, probably not in his lifetime.”

Before the vote Friday, Republican Representative Andy Harris called it unlikely that the Senate will take up the bill.

“Look, obviously, the EPA is charged with making sure our water is safe,” said Harris, who represents Maryland. “I trust the EPA. I’m not sure that we need the Democrat House looking over our shoulder to figure out how it’s done. I leave it to the professionals at the EPA.”

In an interview with Courthouse News, Democratic Representative Peter Defazio said Trump’s EPA is not deserving of such trust.

“The Trump administration is known for encouraging pollution and removing regulations,” said Defazio, who represents Oregon. “I have no faith in this administration acting without directive from Congress in anything that relates to protecting the public, public health or the environment.”

Defazio also said the EPA had failed to hold industry members accountable for contributing these chemicals into groundwater sites, and that there is no record of industry contributions to these chemicals.

“I mean right now, we don’t even know who is dumping the stuff and where they’re dumping it, so the first thing is to get a list of the polluters and the second thing is to get them to stop,” Defazio said. “Right now, a lot of it is ending up in the municipal waste systems and the waste systems are not designed to remove PFAS.”

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