WASHINGTON, DC -- In an effort to protect public health and provide Rhode Island access to federal resources to clean up contamination, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and several of their colleagues in introducing legislation that would mandate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.
Elevated levels of PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals that 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. New England has among the highest concentrations of PFAS contamination in the U.S.
“In the recently released PFAS Action Plan, EPA restated its promise to declare PFAS as hazardous substances, but did not indicate how long it would take to fulfill that promise,” said Senator Carper. “This is an issue that must be addressed with urgency—and that’s why this bill is so important. Designating these chemicals has hazardous substances will, at a minimum, start the process to ensuring contaminated sites across the country are cleaned up, and Americans are safer from the threat posed by these emerging contaminants. This is not the only measure needed to address the broader contamination problems, but it’s a start, and I’m proud this legislation has strong bipartisan support.”
“People’s health is at stake and Congress must act to ensure consumers have access to clean, safe drinking water. The Trump Administration has dragged its feet and prevented people from accessing federally-funded scientific assessments about the safety of their water. This bill would ensure the EPA acts in a timely manner to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up and protecting our drinking water,” said Senator Reed.
“As we’ve learned, certain types of PFAS pollution can have serious consequences when it comes to the environment and to public health and safety. That’s something we need to address,” said Senator Capito, chair of the EPW Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “Our bill will help provide resources for PFAS pollution cleanup and will make it possible to hold those responsible for it accountable. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation with Senator Carper and will continue working with my colleagues, EPA, and others to resolve the issue more broadly.”
In addition to Carper, Reed, and Capito, the PFAS Action Plan of 2019 is cosponsored by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
In May 2018, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS, two specific PFAS chemicals, as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including CERCLA Section 102. Nearly a year later, on February 14, 2019, EPA released its long-anticipated PFAS Action Plan. The plan included another commitment by EPA to make that designation for PFOA and PFOS, but did not identify the available statutory mechanism it would use, nor how long the designation process would take to complete.
Clear and swift action from Congress to list PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA would advance the action already proposed by EPA, forcing the agency to protect human health and the environment in an expeditious manner.
In 2017, 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 the 2018 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 to study the potential health impact of emerging contaminants in water supplies.
U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led the introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this Congress.