Energy & Environment

Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard

Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have reintroduced legislation targeting so-called forever chemicals that previously passed the House, expressing optimism that the Democratic Senate is more likely to pass the measure.

The legislation would establish a national drinking water standard for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up sites contaminated by such substances under its Superfund program.

It would also provide annual funds of $200 million toward wastewater treatment and water utility assistance.

Research by the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy and research organization, indicates 328 military sites nationwide have been contaminated by PFAS, resulting in drinking water contamination that affects more than 200 million Americans.

The legislation comes from two lawmakers whose state has been plagued by the Flint water crisis, which began in 2014. Contaminated water was piped in from the Flint River to the homes of residents, causing lead pipes to leach their substance into the supply. The lead concentration in the water caused health problems for both adults and children. 

Twelve people died as a result of the contamination. 

Years later, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was charged in connection with the water contamination. He was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty. 

In a virtual press conference Tuesday, Dingell confirmed that the reintroduced bill is "identical" to the earlier version but said it would stand a better chance of becoming law in a Democratic Senate.

"The PFAS Action Act is a sweeping and comprehensive legislative package which has strong bipartisan support to address the PFAS crisis in the United States. 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 in a statement.

"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," she added.

Erik Olson, senior strategic director of the health for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that the issue of PFAS in U.S. water systems is urgent and that the bill proposed by the two lawmakers was a "good step" to address these kinds of harmful chemicals. 

"We have to treat the PFAS crisis like a five-alarm 'house on fire.' Toxic PFAS forever chemicals taint our water, soak our environment, and contaminate our bodies," Olson said. 

"The PFAS Action Act is a good first step towards finally addressing the thousands of toxic forever chemicals. We need fast action on the whole toxic family of PFAS chemicals to eliminate them from our environment and bodies," he added.

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