Senate Bill Introduced Earlier This Year Would Regulate Dangerous Chemicals
Back in January, a bill introduced into the Senate would regulate chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known commonly as PFAS. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Prevent Future American Sickness (PFAS) Act.
The bill requires the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. The bill bans all PFAS in food packaging and prohibits food contact with the chemicals. It requires the listing of PFAS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The bill bans waste incineration of PFAS, including the incineration of PFAS firefighting foam. The bill also requires the Department of Defense to report on the location of where its stockpile of firefighting foam and where it has been incinerated in the last 10 years.
“Congress must pass this legislation to put an end to corporate stonewalling and criminal behavior and tackle this public health crisis,” said Sen. Sanders, in a statement.
“PFAS pose a serious health risk to residents across Massachusetts and the country,” Sen. Merkley said. “Cleaning up our air, soil, and water of these forever chemicals is an important component of the Green New Deal, as we fight to provide our communities with a future free of the legacy of corporate pollution.”
Widespread PFAS contamination in the U.S.
Industries around the globe manufacture and use PFAS, including in the U.S. since the 1940s. PFAS can be found in food packaging, commercial household products such as stain and water repellent fabrics and non-stick products, and fire-fighting foams.
Environmental Working Group lab tests found that PFAS is widespread in U.S. drinking water. Researchers tested water samples from 44 places in 31 states and the District of Columbia and found that only one sample had no detectable PFAS. Two other locations had PFAS below the level that studies show pose risks to human health. Major metropolitan areas had some of the highest PFAS levels, including Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans and the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York City. EWG collected water samples from May to December 2019 and had them analyzed by an accredited independent lab for 30 PFAS chemicals.
Contamination had not been publicly reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or state environmental agencies in 34 places where EWG tests found PFAS. The trouble is that PFAS are not regulated so utilities that choose to test for them are not required to report the results to state drinking water agencies or the EPA. They also do not have to report findings to the public.
The lab tests are not the first research EWG conducted on PFAS contamination of drinking water in the U.S. Previously, the non-profit organization mapped PFAS contamination of nearly 1,400 sites in 49 states. Research in 2018 found that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, which is now likely a low estimate given the latest research.
Blood tests by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that every participant had exposure to PFAS. Studies of PFAS show that they may interfere with natural hormones, increase cholesterol levels, affect the immune system, and increase the risk of some cancers. Lab animals exposed to PFAS have shown changes in liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function.
The absence of federal regulation
Without federal regulation, states must regulate PFAS on their own. New Jersey led the way, becoming the first state to regulate a PFAS compound called PFNA, setting a maximum contaminant limit at 13 parts per trillion, which equals a small drop in an Olympic size poll, the site North Jersey explains. There are currently 142 policies concerning PFAS in 29 states, according to Safer States.
The Prevent Future American Sickness Act creates federal regulation of PFAS. Instead of a patchwork quilt of laws regulating the dangerous substances, there would be one law regulating them.