A U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday approved a measure that would compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set an expedited drinking water limit for a suite of toxic chemicals.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works unanimously approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would force the EPA into setting an expedited threshold for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The EPA currently has a guideline that drinking water not exceed 70 parts per trillion for two kinds of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS. But that guideline is not yet enforceable by law.
Critics have said the agency failed to act quickly enough in setting a national drinking water standard to protect human health from the widespread pollution.
PFAS chemicals are linked to various types of cancer and other health problems. They are used in nonstick coatings, a type of firefighting foam and other consumer goods such as cosmetics and food wrappers.
The chemicals also have been found in grocery store meat and seafood, as the Michigan Advance previously reported.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has set an April 2020 deadline for establishing the state’s own drinking water standard for the substances.
The federal proposal combines measures from previous legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and a bipartisan group of other senators from across the country, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG).
“We’re very concerned about this,” said U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.). “This will hold admitters to account, will provide more transparency, [and will] ensure that federal agencies and the public can respond to initiatives. Sunlight being the best disinfectant, I think this amendment is really good.”
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) sponsored provisions in the NDAA to stop the U.S. Department of Defense from buying firefighting foam that contains PFAS, and another section that would aid computer modeling efforts and ease coordination between the Pentagon and state governments on cleanup.
Other federal Michigan lawmakers have sponsored a slew of measures meant to fight PFAS pollution.
EWG Senior Vice President Scott Faber said in a statement Wednesday that the first step in fighting such pollution is understanding the extent and source of contamination.
“The fact that we know so little is a scandal. Much more needs to be done to address the crisis, but monitoring the scope of PFAS pollution will lay the groundwork for further progress,” Faber said.
The group released a report in May showing Michigan has the most known sites of PFAS contamination in the country, as the Advance also reported.
The environmental and health watchdog group noted that the high number is likely due to more polluted areas being discovered through the state’s aggressive testing program.
The slow pace of Air Force testing in preparation of the eventual cleanup of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base has angered Oscoda residents. It’s one of the worst PFAS contamination sites in the state.
Oscoda Township Supervisor Aaron Weed likened the situation to “biological warfare.”