6/11/2018 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – After the Trump Administration sought to suppress publication of a federal health study on a major water-contamination crisis, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is leading a bipartisan effort to publicly release the study’s results to ensure the American people know if their drinking water may be contaminated with high levels of potentially toxic Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) chemicals. 

Elevated levels of PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals which have been manufactured since the 1950s and are often found in non-stick, waterproof, and stain resistant products, may be contaminating drinking water in 33 states nationwide, including Rhode Island.  PFAS have been linked to a variety of cancers, weakened immunity, and other serious health problems.

According to recent media reports, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), undertook a study that reportedly shows that exposure to PFAS poses a danger to human health at lower levels than previously recognized.  While this study was finalized in January 2018, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials reportedly have been working to block the release of this report.

Senator Reed says it is deeply troubling that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continues rolling back environmental protections, blocking government transparency, and preventing the American public from getting the facts about polluted water in their communities.

“People’s health is at stake.  Consumers should have access to as much information as possible about the safety of their drinking water so they can make informed choices to protect their health and the well-being of their families.  Unfortunately, President Trump’s EPA is blocking people’s access to federally-funded scientific assessments about the safety of their water.  The Trump Administration must reverse course and release this scientific study,” said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget.  “Congress should help get this information out there and work on a bipartisan basis to preserve and protect clean, safe drinking water.”

Last year, Reed helped secure a five-year, $8 million federal grant to enable the University of Rhode Island (URI) to establish a research center on chemical pollutants in drinking water to test for PFAS in private wells and better understand how the chemicals contaminate groundwater, the food chain and, ultimately, humans.  Reed, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, helped include a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring a study on the health implications of PFAS in drinking water, as well as a $10 million authorization in the Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA that was recently approved by the full Committee to study the potential health impact of emerging contaminants in water supplies.

On Friday, Reed, along with eleven colleagues, sent a bipartisan letter to the EPA and HHS demanding the Trump Administration release the report so communities nationwide have access to all the best science as they work to make sure their local water is safe.  

“The EPA and other regulatory agencies must rely on the most up-to-date, factually-accurate information based on rigorous science to guide policy decisions and regulations designed to protect the health and well-being of our constituents. Given the wide use of PFAS and presence of these chemicals in communities across the U.S., it is critical that this report be released without delay and that EPA act immediately to update its guidelines to ensure Americans are informed of and protected from the danger of exposure to these toxins,” the Senators wrote in their letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

In addition to Reed, the bipartisan group of Senators who sent this letter to the EPA and HHS demanding they release the report include: U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

New England has among the highest concentrations of PFAS contamination in the United States.

Senator Reed is urging interested Rhode Islanders to attend public meetings the EPA is scheduling in New England later this month to give people a chance to share their concerns and hear from federal officials about the potential health effects of PFAS.  While the EPA has not scheduled a public PFAS meeting for Rhode Island, the closest one will take place in New Hampshire.  Two regional community engagement sessions are planned on June 25 and 26 at Exeter High School.

Rhode Islanders who can’t travel to New Hampshire for the meetings are invited to submit comments online here.

Text of the bipartisan PFAS letter follows:

The Honorable Scott Pruitt
Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460

The Honorable Alex Azar
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Administrator Pruitt and Secretary Azar:

We write to express our deep concern with recent news reports that individuals within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are blocking the release of results from a study completed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) regarding Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). The results of this study are critical to protecting the health and well-being of communities across the country, and it is imperative that the results of this study be released immediately.

As you are aware, PFAS are a class of toxic chemicals used in manufacturing that have been linked to a variety of cancers and serious health conditions. According to recent media reports, ATSDR has been working on a report on the health effects of PFAS, which reportedly shows that exposure to these chemicals at levels lower than previously known pose a danger to human health – in particular the health of more vulnerable populations  like pregnant women and the immunocompromised. We understand that this report was finalized in January 2018, but Politico has reported that there are “internal emails showing EPA officials working to block the report.” This is unacceptable.

The EPA and other regulatory agencies must rely on the most up-to-date, factually-accurate information based on rigorous science to guide policy decisions and regulations designed to protect the health and well-being of our constituents. Given the wide use of PFAS and presence of these chemicals in communities across the U.S., it is critical that this report be released without delay and that EPA act immediately to update its guidelines to ensure Americans are informed of and protected from the danger of exposure to these toxins. We are especially concerned since PFAS have been discovered in community water systems as well as on multiple Department of Defense installations.  To this point, many local officials, as well as the Department of Defense have been working off the voluntary EPA guidelines issued in 2016; however, we need to ensure that all parties are working off the most up-to-date information to maintain a safe water supply.

Several of our colleagues have written to you since the existence of the report became known requesting information and seeking to review the report matter. We write to echo their concerns, and to urge you to publish the findings of this study and update EPA policies related to PFAS in a way that will adequately protect the health and well-being of our constituents without delay.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

United States Senator Sherrod Brown
United States Senator Rob Portman
United States Senator Jack Reed
United States Senator Shelley Moore Capito
United States Senator Tammy Baldwin
United States Senator Chris Van Hollen
United States Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator Edward J. Markey
United States Senator Bill Nelson
United States Senator Joe Manchin III
United States Senator Robert Menendez

cc: The Honorable Mick Mulvaney, Director, OMB
The Honorable James Mattis, Secretary, Department of Defense