PFAS Chemicals Threaten the Health and Wellbeing of our Communities

January 11, 2020

The first week back in session after the holiday break is always an eventful one. In that respect, this year was no different. In the midst of this hectic week, the House accomplished a great feat in its mission to protect the health and wellbeing of Americans and our environment.

  • On Tuesday, H.R. 535, the PFAS Action Act, landmark legislation to address PFAS substances, advanced out of the Rules Committee, paving the way for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
  • On Thursday, I managed debate during the House debate on the PFAS Action Act. The House adopted nearly 20 amendments to the bill.
  • The advancement in the Rules Committee and debate in the House resulted in a historic House vote and passage of the PFAS legislation on Friday with bipartisan support.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are everywhere. They can be found in non-stick pots and pans, food packaging and numerous other consumer goods, even firefighting foam. These man-made ‘forever chemicals’ have been linked to harmful and potentially deadly health effects including cancer, immune system effects, infertility, impaired child development, high cholesterol and thyroid disease. 

PFAS chemicals have contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans across nearly every state. 

The extreme threat that these contaminants pose has devastated American families across the United States for far too long. That is why my colleagues and I in the House immediately got to work to take action against these dangerous chemicals.

The House’s PFAS legislative package would:

  • Stem the flow of PFAS into the environment by requiring cleanup of sites contaminated with PFOA and PFOS, setting air emission limits for PFOA and PFOS, prohibiting unsafe incineration of PFAS and limiting the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce;
  • Identify health risks by requiring comprehensive health testing for all PFAS, reporting of PFAS releases and monitoring for PFAS in drinking water;
  • Limit human exposure to PFAS by requiring a drinking water standard that protects public health, including the health of vulnerable subpopulations like pregnant women, infants and children and holding polluters accountable; and
  • Provide grants to impacted water systems, create a voluntary label for cookware that is PFAS free and provide guidance for first responders to limit their exposures. 

Addressing PFAS contamination has long been a driving force informing my work in the House. For many in our Capital Region and beyond, PFAS chemicals directly affect their daily lives. Contamination has been found across the country, much of it around industrial facilities and Department of Defense installations. Despite this, the agencies whose mission is to protect human health and the environment, have done little to mitigate this crisis. 

The EPA has continued to allow new PFAS onto the market, some without any review under “low volume exemptions” to the Toxic Substances Control Act. 

While the EPA issued a “PFAS Action Plan,” it did not take needed action to address cleanup of contaminated sites, set limits on PFAS in drinking water or even require reporting of PFAS releases. The only commitments made in the action plan were to make some determinations by the end of 2019. Even those commitments were not met.

Another failure came with the National Defense Authorization Act. Some PFAS language was adopted, but critical protections, including requiring the EPA set clear limits on the level of PFAS chemicals in waterways and drinking water, were removed from the bill. 

Our communities, already suffering because of inaction, can no longer afford to wait. The PFAS Action Act would take the necessary steps to address these dangerous substances that have threatened the health of Americans and the environment for decades.

If we fail to enact this legislation, then we have failed the American people.

As always, thank you for reading.

Your friend,