PFAS Contamination: Legislation to Help Clean Drinking Water

Turns out America’s drinking water woes expand far beyond lead. A class of common chemicals used in everything from nonstick pans and stain-treated carpets, clothing and furniture to fast-food packaging is a source of widespread contamination in certain pockets of the United States. Could you be drinking water harboring PFAS contamination?

According to a 2020 report by Environmental Working Group (EWG), tap water sampling from 44 places in 31 states turned up PFAS contamination. Contamination turned up on large metropolitan areas like Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York City suburbs. Based on the tap water findings, and the news that PFAS is even turning up in rainwater, analysts from EWG believe virtually everyone is being exposed to this chemical linked to thyroid disruption and cancer.

Only one testing site, where people get their water from 700-foot wells in a Mississippi town, came up clean in testing. Despite widespread contamination across the United States, this chemical isn’t commonly tested for in drinking water because PFAS chemicals are not regulated in a way that requires widespread testing and disclosure.

And leaked FDA documents that were presented at a scientific conference in Helsinki, Finland, show that PFAS have been detected in dairy products, poultry, red meat, fish, leafy greens and store-bought chocolate cake. In fact, the PFAS levels were double or more the current federal advisory level!

Thankfully, Congress is taking action. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D) and Fred Upton (R), both from Michigan, recently introduced comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to protect all Americans from the PFAS.

The PFAS Action Act of 2021 creates a national drinking water standard for select PFAS chemicals, designates PFAS as hazardous substances to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites, limits industrial discharges and provides $200 million annually to assist water utilities and wastewater treatment facilities.

“It’s time that these chemicals are properly addressed to protect the American people from the hazardous substances we know these forever chemicals are,” Dingell said. “Setting drinking water standards and designating PFAS as hazardous substances under the EPA’s Superfund program will accelerate the clean-up process in communities and at military facilities all across this nation.”

Details of the PFAS Action Act of 2021

The PFAS Action Act would:

  • Require the EPA to establish a national drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS within two years that protects public health, including the health of vulnerable subpopulations
  • Designate PFOA and PFOS chemicals as hazardous substances within one year and require the EPA to determine whether to list other PFAS within five years
  • Designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous air pollutants within 180 days and require the EPA to determine whether to list other PFAS within five years
  • Require the EPA to place discharge limits on industrial releases of PFAS and provide $200 million annually for wastewater treatment
  • Prohibit unsafe incineration of PFAS wastes and place a moratorium on the introduction of new PFAS into commerce
  • Require comprehensive PFAS health testing
  • Create a voluntary label for PFAS in cookware

“We need deadlines to ensure that the EPA will take the steps need to reduce PFAS releases into our air, land and water, to filter PFAS out of tap water and to clean up legacy PFAS pollution, especially near Department of Defense facilities,” said Faber. “We applaud Reps. Dingell and Upton for continuing to make PFAS pollution a priority.”

PFAS chemicals are man-made chemicals that have so far been found in the drinking water of more than 2,000 communities. They are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. These chemicals have been linked to harmful human health effects, including cancer, reproductive and developmental harms, and weakened immune systems.

In January 2020, the House passed the PFAS Action Act by a vote of 247 to 159. Is your representative on the list?

  • Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)
  • Fred Upton (R-Mich.)
  • Dan Kildee (D-Mich.)
  • Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.)
  • Haley Stevens (D-Mich.)
  • Bill Posey (R-Fla.)
  • Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.)
  • David Rouzer (R-N.C.)
  • Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
  • Chris Pappas (D-N.H.)
  • Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.)
  • Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.)
  • Gwen Moore (D-Wis.)
  • Andy Levin (D-Mich.)
  • Peter Welch (D-Vt.)
  • Ron Kind (D-Wis.)
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
  • Chellie Pingree, (D-Maine)
  • Lori Trahan (D-Mass.)
  • Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.)
  • Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-Ill.)
  • Andy Kim (D-N.J.)
  • Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)
  • Brendan F. Boyle (D-Pa.)
  • Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.)

PFAS Contamination Findings

You know that chocolate cake with icing that you grab from the grocery store? Well the PFAS detected in one sample were more than 250 times higher than the federal guidelines for drinking water, according to the Associated Press.

In response to these findings, an FDA spokesperson said that the agency thought the contamination was “not likely to be a human health concern, despite the fact that the tests exceeded the existing federal recommendations for PFAS levels.

So why is all of this information problematic? PFASs, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals found in common household items like nonstick products; they’re also used extensively in the military. Concerns of major PFAS health risks continue to mount, with a 2018 review by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealing the health effects associated with PFAS exposure include cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility,  pregnancy-induced hypertension and an increased risk of thyroid disease and asthma.

This is a problem that may be affecting you at this very moment. According to the EWG, an estimated 99 percent of American currently have some degree of PFAS contamination. Can that really be possible? The American Cancer Society website states, “Studies have found that it is present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. Higher blood levels have been found in community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA. People exposed to PFOA in the workplace can have levels many times higher.”

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Source: Draxe