Legislation calls for 'forever chemicals' to be regulated as hazardous substances

Newly introduced legislation aims to limit the amount of PFAS chemicals, called forever chemicals because they don't break down in the environment, permitted in drinking water. Photo by roegger/Pixabay
Newly introduced legislation aims to limit the amount of PFAS chemicals, called forever chemicals because they don't break down in the environment, permitted in drinking water. Photo by roegger/Pixabay

April 13 (UPI) -- Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced bipartisan legislation on Tuesday to designate PFAS as hazardous substances and set a national drinking standard for the "forever chemicals."

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of synthetic compounds used in a variety of industrial processes and found in dozens of household items.


They have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer and high cholesterol, and a report published last month found the toxins are accumulating in municipal drinking water all over the United States.

"These are forever chemicals that are in many of the things that we touch and use every single day," Rep. Dingell said during a phone call with reporters on Tuesday.

By defining PFAS as hazardous substances, the newly introduced legislation -- an updated version of a bill that was introduced a few years ago but stalled -- would bind the Environmental Protection Agency to take action on PFAS regulation by spearheading the cleanup of contaminated sites and limiting industrial discharges.


During Tuesday's call, actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo said companies have been using and discharging PFAS for decades, fully aware of the exposure risks, but said he wasn't particularly surprised by such corporate negligence.

"What's amazing to me is that EPA has known for decades about risks posed by PFAS, and done nothing to regulate the discharges under federal laws -- the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air and Water Acts," Ruffalo told reporters.

PFAS are called forever chemicals because they aren't easily broken down, and thus, accumulate in the environment. They also accumulate in the bloodstream and organs of animals and humans.

Though PFAS compounds are found in dozens of products, most of the PFAS compounds in found in the environment and drinking water are from flame-retardant foams -- particularly those used to put out aviation fires.

Many of the worst contamination sites are located near airports and military bases and facilities, which is why Rep. Upton said it's imperative that the legislation ensures the cooperation of both the EPA and Department of Defense.

"We need to be certain that Department of Defense is going to be good neighbors and partners in the effort to clean up these contamination sites," Rep. Upton said.


Both Reps. Dingell and Upton said they were motivated to tackle the problem of PFAS pollution by their first hand experiences dealing with water contamination crises in Michigan.

"The number of contamination sites is growing at an exponential rate, including at a number military bases," Rep. Dingell said. "Michigan is leading the way on identifying these contamination sources. We set a PFAS drinking water standard and are educating the public because we understand the importance of clean drinking water -- but this is a national problem."

Several municipalities around the country are working to remove PFAS from their local water systems using granulated activated charcoal, but such filtration systems are not currently mandated -- and they're not cheap or easily scalable.

To tackle the problem of PFAS pollution, advocates say the power of federal government is needed.

"After decades of inactions, it's time to immediately designate PF and FPP as hazardous substances at a minimum," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

President Joe Biden has pledged to do just that, as well as move the EPA to set a national drinking water standard for PFAS, but Faber said that the legislation introduced by Reps. Dingell and Upton can help ensure those actions happen sooner rather than later.


"Communities impacted by PFAS contamination have heard pledges and promises before," Faber said. "They want action now."

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