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Senators Demand Federal Limits for Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water Amid Reports of 'Unconscionable' Inaction by Trump's EPA

"We now face a serious challenge: aggressively addressing the health and environmental threats connected with PFAS."

tap water

Twenty senators are calling for federal limits on a pair of chemicals linked to various cancers and other health issues. (Photo: Peter Werkman/Flickr/cc)

In response to reports this week that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't plan to impose drinking water limits on two toxic chemicals linked to various forms of cancer and other health issues, 20 senators on Friday sent a letter to acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler imploring him to craft nationwide restrictions.

"While our nation's water quality is among the highest in the world, we now face a serious challenge: aggressively addressing the health and environmental threats connected with PFAS."
—20 senators

The chemicals in question are PFOA and PFOS, which belong to a group called PFAS. Politico reported Tuesday that Wheeler had signed off on an unreleased plan that would leave the pair off the list of materials regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA's Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross on Tuesday issued what one journalist described as a "non-denial denial" (Ross claimed that "any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature") while public health advocates decried the reported move as unsurprising but also "absolutely unconscionable."

In the letter (pdf) spearheaded by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), federal lawmakers call for "immediate actions to protect the public from contamination" and warn that "EPA's inaction would be a major setback to states and affected communities."

Noting that a lack of federal rules has led to states imposing "a patchwork of conflicting drinking water standards and guidelines," and that health advisories put out by the EPA are inadequate, the letter argues:

Without enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, it is doubtful that a national management strategy will sufficiently confront the challenges PFAS chemicals pose to states and affected communities. This decision would also fail to consider the ongoing interagency efforts to determine the human health implications of contamination from PFAS, including the nationwide study being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

"Safe drinking water is essential to the health and well-being of every American," the senators conclude. "And while our nation's water quality is among the highest in the world, we now face a serious challenge: aggressively addressing the health and environmental threats connected with PFAS."

In addition to calling for national rules for the water contaminants, the senators' request that the EPA provide lawmakers with briefings on the agency's efforts to limit PFAS contamination as well as regular progress updates.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Carper (D-De.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.),  Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

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