In the wake of widespread contamination of drinking water, today Environment America and its allies are urging the federal government to take strong action, as the U.S. Senate holds its first-ever hearing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.
“These widely-used toxic chemicals are poisoning drinking water across the country. We need decisive action to restore safe drinking water to residents and ensure that not one more community has its water contaminated by PFAS,” said Bart Johnsen-Harris, clean water advocate for Environment America.
From the 35 confirmed sites in Michigan alone to North Carolina to New Hampshire, toxic PFAS pollution has turned up in numerous drinking water sources. The problem is likely much more pervasive, with an analysis by Environmental Working Group estimating that the drinking water of 110 million Americans could already be contaminated.
The PFAS class of toxic chemicals poses serious threats to human health. PFAS has links to cancer, immune system deficiencies, high cholesterol, low fertility, and developmental disorders; these health risks are magnified through bioaccumulation and persistence in the environment. Even trace amounts of PFAS can be hazardous to our health.
Several residents from impacted communities travelled to Washington for today’s hearing to tell senators how PFAS has contaminated their water and put their health at risk. Residents of Merrimack, NH, explained that their drinking water has been contaminated with high levels of PFOA for at least two decades.
“We don’t just bear the pain of our losses and health struggles, but also the cost of bottled water, water filtration systems, clean up, medical bills, chronic stress, depression, and anxiety,” said Laurene Allen, a social worker and member of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water.
Environment America, U.S. PIRG, and Toxics Action Center are calling on Congress and the EPA to take the following actions:
Prevent future contamination. To safeguard our drinking water and health, we need a national moratorium on further use of PFAS chemicals until and unless any specific ones are proven safe. Any exceptions should be strictly limited to true emergency needs where alternatives are not yet available, and we should work to develop safer alternatives for these uses as soon as possible.
Ensure safe drinking water. The federal government should set a health protective standard of one part per trillion for PFAS as a class of chemicals. EPA could accomplish this by setting a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), which would protect drinking water and ensure adequate cleanup of contaminated sites.
Hold polluters accountable. Instead of imposing a significant burden on communities and states, users and manufacturers of PFAS should pay for clean up, monitoring, and other expenses of this contamination. EPA should designate PFAS under existing polluter-pays programs, including section 311 of the Clean Water Act, Superfund, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The groups’ recommendations follow their work to combat PFAS pollution locally. Toxics Action Center has been assisting several local citizens’ groups in New England and elsewhere to press for drinking water cleanup. Environment North Carolina canvassers knocked on over 45,000 doors this summer to educate the public, and residents have packed high school auditoriums in hearings to learn how their health has been put at risk.
“Our rush to create an easy-to-clean pan does not justify cancer for our families and friends,” said Mr. Johnsen-Harris. “We can and must do better—for our water and our health.”