Environmental, public health groups to Senate: Act on toxic PFAS in drinking water

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WASHINGTON — Eighty-two organizations, including Environment America and U.S. PIRG, delivered a letter Wednesday to the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee calling for comprehensive federal legislation to protect Americans’ drinking water from contamination by the toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS. The organizations, which hail from 30 states, asked the EPW Committee to designate all PFAS as hazardous substances, prohibit their use in firefighting foam, and direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue drinking water standards and stop the dumping of PFAS into our nation’s waterways. The organizations include Pennsylvania’s Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water and North Carolina’s Clean Cape Fear. Both are organizations formed in response to PFAS contamination of local drinking water sources.

“As PFAS contaminate more communities’ drinking water, there is a growing outcry for federal action to stop this toxic pollution once and for all,” said Sean Hoffmann, federal legislative advocate with Environment America’s Washington, DC, legislative office. “The breadth of signers on this letter demonstrates that Americans from coast to coast are looking to the Senate to turn off the tap on PFAS.”

From Alabama to Alaska, more than 200 million Americans’ drinking water may be contaminated with PFAS, a class of more than 12,000 toxic man-made substances. These “forever chemicals,” so-called because they never break down and can build up in the environment and our bodies, have infiltrated drinking water in every state in the union. The primary sources of PFAS in drinking water are runoff from firefighter training and response sites (including airports and air bases), industrial discharges, leaching from cropland and landfills, and releases from wastewater treatment plants.

“The Senate took a groundbreaking, bipartisan first step in 2019 by mandating the phase-out of firefighting foams in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). But we need additional carefully crafted legislation to protect our drinking water and public health,” said Emily Rogers, U.S. PIRG Zero Out Toxics advocate. “Nearly half of the states in America have started to address the release and cleanup of toxic PFAS. Now is the time for Congress to act swiftly to strengthen these state-led efforts with federal restrictions on PFAS and to protect the public from these dangerous ‘forever chemicals,’ ensuring we don’t keep spewing PFAS forever.”

Research links PFAS exposure in humans to cancer, immune system deficiencies, high cholesterol, low fertility, and child development issues. Moreover, the health impacts of PFAS are magnified because of the way the chemicals accumulate in air, soil, water and our bodies.

“The leadership of Sens. Tom Carper (DE) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) helped get us the historic bipartisan infrastructure law, which includes funding to tackle PFAS in drinking water,” Hoffmann concluded. “While the infrastructure law’s money to address existing PFAS contamination is vitally important, we also need to turn PFAS off at the source. To that end, organizations from across America are calling on Sens. Carper and Capito to come together to craft legislation to protect our drinking water from toxic PFAS before the Senate leaves for its August recess.”

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