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Dingell Says ‘Forever Chemicals’ Top Congressional Priority (1)

Nov. 17, 2020, 8:53 PM; Updated: Nov. 17, 2020, 9:13 PM

Legislation that would require the EPA to regulate so-called ‘forever chemicals’ will be reintroduced in January, soon after the new Congress begins its first session, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said Tuesday.

Dingell, who sponsored the PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535) that the House passed last January, said reintroducing the bill would send a signal to the incoming Biden administration that controlling per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, is “a top priority in the new Congress.”

The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set cleanup standards and enforceable drinking water limits for at least some PFAS, she said during a forum hosted by the Environmental Working Group.

The PFAS Action Act would also ban the chemicals from materials that touch food, such as cookware and cosmetics, said Dingell, a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force. Michigan has launched some of the nation’s most extensive water testing for the substances, and the issue may have been a factor in some of the state’s most competitive races.

That bill never moved in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Dingell said she’s working with colleagues on that side of Capitol Hill to lay the groundwork in the 117th Congress.

West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who’s in line to take the top Republican spot in the Environment and Public Works Committee if Republicans retain control of the Senate, has joined Democrats in the past in calling for more stringent PFAS regulations.

Regulation, Funding

Members of Congress will also urge the new administration to pursue PFAS controls that don’t require legislation, she said.

That would include, for example, designating perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—the two most well-studied members of the chemical group—a hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, Dingell said.

The House also will work to ensure cities and states get robust funding to address the chemicals that are found in the water that people drink and in which they fish and swim, she said.

Neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have set national limits for PFAS in drinking water, air, or soil for years—even though concerns about PFOS and PFOA emerged in the early 2000s. But the Biden administration is expected to, said Dingell along with Robert A. Bilott, a partner in Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP’s Cincinnati office, and Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney with EWG.

PFAS in Biden’s Platform

The president-elect already has said PFAS will be a priority, Benesh said. She referred to commitments Biden made in his environmental justice platform.

These included “designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research.”

The tab for cleaner drinking water, cleanups, and other PFAS-caused problems must be picked up by “the companies that made these chemicals, knowing they would get into our environment and stay there virtually forever,” said Bilott, whose work was portrayed in the 2019 film “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo.

Bilott has won several multimillion-dollar settlements, including $670.7 million to settle thousands of personal injury lawsuits stemming from exposure to polluted water supplies in West Virginia and Ohio. His lawsuits also revealed many previously unknown details about ways PFOA could harm human health.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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