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Part of a filtration system designed to filter out PFAS from the drinking water supply

Part of a filtration system designed to filter out PFAS from the drinking water supply is seen at the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority facility in Pennsylvania, on August 22, 2019. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

US House Passes Bill to Protect Drinking Water, Environment From Forever Chemicals

Following the vote, Rep. Debbie Dingell said that "we are one step closer to protecting the health of Americans"

Kenny Stancil

The U.S. House on Wednesday passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, a bill that, if passed by the U.S. Senate, would improve the regulation and facilitate the cleanup of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—long-lasting synthetic chemicals that pose a threat to public and environmental health.

H.R. 2467, introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in April, passed by a margin of 241-183. Twenty-three Republicans joined nearly every Democrat in supporting the bill to protect people and ecosystems from harmful PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals" because they persist and bioaccumulate for years on end. Five Republicans and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) abstained.

Following Wednesday's vote, Dingell said that "we are one step closer to protecting the health of Americans from these toxic forever chemicals."

Mary Grant, director of Food & Water Watch's Public Water for All campaign, applauded the House "for passing this critical legislation to finally begin regulating toxic PFAS chemicals and prevent drinking water contamination."

"There is no more time for delay when it comes to enacting a thorough plan to remove these chemicals from our drinking water with enforceable regulations, and ensur[ing] the biggest polluters are held accountable for cleaning up their rampant contamination," Grant said in a statement.

Researchers have linked long-term exposure to PFAS to numerous health problems, including cancer, reproductive harmimmune system damage, and other serious issues.

Despite the grave risks and adverse effects associated with toxic PFAS, contamination is widespread after decades of inadequate regulation.

Earlier this month, previously unpublished internal records showed that former President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed oil and gas corporations to inject fluids containing PFAS, or chemicals that can degrade into PFAS, into fracking sites, endangering groundwater in multiple states.

An analysis released Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected forever chemicals in nearly 2,800 communities nationwide, including 2,411 drinking water systems and 238 military installations.

"It is past time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation. Our country deserves clean water."
—Mary Grant, Food & Water Watch

According to Food & Water Watch, "PFAS have been found in the blood of 97% of people in the United States and in human breast milk." In addition, a peer-reviewed study conducted last October by scientists at EWG found that more than 200 million people across the country could have PFAS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or higher.

"PFAS contamination has grown at an alarming rate and poses a serious threat to public health," Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "We've known for decades that PFAS are toxic at very low doses, and yet the EPA has failed to take action to protect the public."

"This bill," Ronholm added, "will help minimize harmful exposure to these dangerous chemicals by requiring strong standards to keep PFAS out of our air and water and facilitating the cleanup of contaminated sites that pollute communities and endanger our health."

The PFAS Action Act would require the EPA to create national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, the two most studied forever chemicals, within two years.

Other provisions of the bill would require the EPA to determine whether other PFAS should be designated as toxic pollutants under the Clean Water Act, to establish standards to limit discharges of PFAS from industrial sources, and to provide $200 million per year to support water utilities and wastewater treatment facilities.

In addition, the bill would require the EPA to clean up toxic sites. Within one year, PFOA and PFOS would be designated as hazardous substances under the Superfund program, and the EPA would have five years to determine whether remaining PFAS should be listed as hazardous substances requiring environmental remediation.

Within 180 days, the EPA would also be required designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and the agency would have five years to list additional PFAS as hazardous air pollutants.

As for the more than 180 GOP lawmakers who oppose regulating "forever chemicals that kill people," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) suggested that they had "to show their chemical corporate benefactors that their leashes are still on."

Food & Water Watch emphasized that "pressure is now on the Senate to act."

"The Senate must not compromise when it comes to protecting people from toxic chemicals in their water," said Grant. "The Senate must pass the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and reject any attempt to weaken the legislation."

"Communities have waited too long already," Grant added. "It is past time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation. Our country deserves clean water—nothing less."


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