WASHINGTON, D.C. - Given the presence of so-called PFAS “forever chemicals” in Ohio drinking water, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown on Wednesday called for U.S. Senate action on legislation that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate them hazardous substances.
“Are we on the side of Ohioans or are our elected officials on the side of the chemical companies?” Brown asked on a call with reporters. “Our parents shouldn’t have to worry about their children’s health every time they turn on the faucet.”
Per- and polyfluoroakyl substances (PFAS) have been used for decades in food packaging and household products like stain- and water-repellent fabrics, polishes, waxes and cleaning products. Their presence in foam used to fight fires has led to groundwater contamination near airports and military bases where firefighters train. They’ve been called “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in humans and don’t break down in nature.
According to the Environmental Working Group, PFAS chemicals have been found in drinking water in Ohio communities including Cleveland Heights and Struthers, and on military bases including Camp Ravenna and Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The organization says PFAS have been detected in more than 1,400 communities in almost every state, and estimates that more than 100 million Americans may be drinking water contaminated by them.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would require EPA to declare PFAS hazardous substances, set safety standards for their presence in drinking water, give water companies grants to help remove the chemicals, and require remediation of the chemicals when they’re released into the environment.
It would also require comprehensive toxicity tests on all PFAS chemicals and require EPA to issue guidance on minimizing the use of equipment containing PFAS, without jeopardizing firefighting efforts.
Dr. Susan Pinney of the University of Cincinnati told reporters the chemicals have been linked to health problems including cancer, kidney damage, thyroid difficulties and changes in reproductive hormones that disrupt puberty for girls.
“With any public health problem, the first step is assessment, and we really don’t have an assessment of the extent of exposure to PFAS in drinking water,” said Pinney. “That’s why the approval of the House bill is so important, because it would require a more universal assessment throughout the United States.”
Although Brown said the government has ignored the problem for too long and “we need to accelerate the timeline for us to take action,” the White House says President Donald Trump would probably veto the bill if it comes before him.
A Trump administration statement says the bill would bypass well-established processes, procedures and legal requirements set forth by other environmental laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. And, the administration says, it would ignore the established processes to ensure that appropriate, scientifically sound actions are taken to protect Americans.
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