PFAS protest

Two protesters carry signs urging lawmakers to ban PFAS.

(Photo: Seaside Sustainability Inc./Twitter)

Chemical Companies Are Spending Millions to Lobby Lawmakers on Toxic Forever Chemicals

Our new research uncovers the potential scale of their efforts—and the cost to the public.

For decades, chemical companies have pumped out products that are poisoning families nationwide. Now, PFAS “forever chemicals” have infiltrated our homes, water, environment, and bodies.

Long-overdue federal actions to address this crisis have finally been set in motion. But at the same time, companies are pouring millions of dollars into lobbying on PFAS and other issues. Our new research uncovers the potential scale of their efforts—and the cost to the public.

PFAS Have Infiltrated Our Homes and Our Bodies

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are also known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment. Chemical companies like Dupont and 3M have manufactured them for decades; today, there are nearly 15,000 different PFAS found in products we use every day.

As a result, they’ve spread throughout our drinking water (including bottled water), our environment, and the blood of 97% of people who live in the United States.

This is a public health crisis. Research has linked PFAS to all sorts of health problems, from reproductive harm to cancers. To add insult to injury, we’re also seeing growing evidence that chemical companies concealed the risks of PFAS and misled the public. And as support grows for regulating these chemicals, companies are throwing money into influencing lawmakers and regulators.

Chemical Companies’ Lobbying Arsenal on PFAS Regulations

To find out the extent of the chemical companies’ campaigns, we dug into quarterly lobbying reports for companies that were or are current major producers of PFAS. We also looked at reports for the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s biggest trade group. We focused on Congress’s 2019-20 and 2021-22 sessions, which saw over 60 and 70 bills introduced with language on PFAS, respectively.

Of those, only four became law, along with four Defense Authorization Acts that included PFAS amendments. None came close to fully addressing PFAS pollution or holding polluters accountable.

So far, the chemical industry has succeeded in turning its profits into political power.

During this time, the lobbying disclosures of eight major PFAS-producing companies mentioning “PFAS” total $55.7 million. The American Chemistry Council also lobbied on PFAS, with reports mentioning PFAS totaling $58.7 million. And companies that use or whose products may contain PFAS (including oil majors like Shell and Exxon and food giant Nestlé) lobbied on PFAS during this time, too.

We also dug into campaign contributions from PFAS backers to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. This committee reviewed the PFAS Action Act of 2019 and 2021, which included some of the strongest measures to protect us from PFAS. Though it passed the House in both sessions, the bill died in the Senate Committee.

We found that during the same time frame (2019-2022), two-thirds of Committee members received donations from the eight major chemical companies we reviewed. More than half received money from the American Chemistry Council.

Without Accountability, the Public Will Continue Paying for This Public Health Crisis

For decades, chemical companies took advantage of our weak chemical regulations to mislead the public and continue profiting off of PFAS. Now, we have a public health crisis that demands strong regulations.

One of our most powerful clean-up laws in the country is the Superfund program. Under the program, companies using chemicals deemed “hazardous” must monitor and report on them. The program also allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to direct a clean-up and get polluters to pay for it.

The EPA has recently proposed to regulate some forms of PFAS under the Superfund program. However, trade groups helmed by the American Chemistry Council have directly opposed Superfund status for PFAS. Polluters know the clean-up costs will be huge.

Communities shouldn’t have to choose between unaffordable water bills and toxic water. Polluters need to pay their fair share to clean up what they contaminated.

Another enormous cost will be cleaning up, monitoring, and protecting families from PFAS specifically in drinking water. In 2023, the EPA proposed nationwide standards that limit some PFAS in drinking water. The agency estimates that complying with these rules would cost water systems up to $1.2 billion over 80 years.

If PFAS polluters dodge accountability, the public will be left with these costs. Water systems forced to pay the entire cost of PFAS monitoring and treatment would likely raise water rates, pulling from families’ pockets. If the community can’t afford the costs, households will be left with toxic water.

This would be unconscionable during a water affordability crisis that hits low-income families hardest. Moreover, low-income communities are more likely to face PFAS pollution problems.

Communities shouldn’t have to choose between unaffordable water bills and toxic water. Polluters need to pay their fair share to clean up what they contaminated.

We Need Strong Policies to Protect Us From PFAS and Polluters

So far, the chemical industry has succeeded in turning its profits into political power. We’ve seen few policies that protect families from more PFAS and hold PFAS polluters accountable. But we can’t allow the industry to get away with this any longer.

That’s why we’re exposing the chemical industry and fighting for the policies that will finally protect us. We’re calling for laws and rules that:

1. Regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals:

So far, attempts to address PFAS have been a morbid game of whack-a-mole. Companies have phased out some PFAS, only to introduce other, slightly different ones. However, research shows that newer PFAS have similar impacts on public health and the environment.

The EPA needs to establish a broad definition of PFAS, and regulations must cover them all together. The agency must also finalize its rules to put two PFAS under the Superfund program and set enforceable limits on PFAS in drinking water. Ultimately, it must ban all non-essential uses of all PFAS.

2. Support public water and sewer systems to test and remove PFAS:

Small municipal water systems have so far borne the brunt of costs for PFAS clean-up, monitoring, and protections. Federal legislation has begun mobilizing funds, but it’s not enough.

That’s why we need the WATER Act. This wide-ranging bill provides needed funds to address PFAS, as well as historic funding for other water infrastructure needs.

3. Don’t let big polluters off the hook:

The chemical industry is trying to narrow the scope of regulations, and various polluters are seeking to dodge responsibility for PFAS clean-up. This would shift the burden to the public, who would pay through their water bills or threats to their health.

Congress and the EPA need to reject efforts to narrow the definition of PFAS or limit the scope of liability for clean-up. Polluters should pay to clean up their toxic PFAS mess.

© 2021 Food & Water Watch