WASHINGTON — Two days after the Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to address PFAS chemicals, lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday that the agency’s plan will leave communities across the country waiting too long for regulations.
Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Radhika Fox, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, said the agency is moving as quickly as it can to better regulate PFAS chemicals and committed to collaborating with states to ensure changes are made.
PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment, have been used in many products, including nonstick pans, water resistant coats, food packaging and firefighting foam, since the 1940s.
Due to their widespread use and durability, the chemicals have contaminated water sources, soil and air across the country — and found their way into the bloodstream of 97 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The EPA has identified over 120,000 facilities across the country that may be exposing people to PFAS, which are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, according to data obtained by The Guardian.
“PFAS can be found nearly everywhere — in our air, in our land, in our water, in our wildlife, in our own body,” Fox said.
Human exposure to the chemicals has been linked to cancer, increased cholesterol levels and other adverse health effects. Yet, they are not considered hazardous substances by the federal government and continue to be used in consumer and industrial products. On Monday, the EPA released a plan to address PFAS contamination, which includes steps to fund research on the chemicals, restrict their presence in the environment and accelerate clean-up efforts.
Fox said the agency intends to propose a national water drinking standard by next fall and designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances by summer 2023, a timeline the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, said is too long.
“I want it to be right, I want it to be grounded in science, but I am frustrated,” Capito said. “I would urge you to prioritize this, if not at the top, at near the top of the list because of the impacts it will have all across this country.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas Carper said he’s encouraged by the EPA’s plan, but concrete change will require timely implementation.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said that while he appreciated Fox’s sense of urgency, he wants the agency to act on the water standard as quickly as possible, saying that the longer the chemicals go unregulated, the more challenges the nation will face in the future.
Fox said the government should have established a drinking water standard years ago, but the EPA progress was set back during the Trump administration. She said the agency is committed to creating a durable standard during Administrator Michael Regan’s tenure.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill would be a “game changer” for the EPA in its efforts to regulate PFAS and clean existing contamination, Fox said. The legislation includes $10 billion to remove the forever chemicals from drinking supplies and clean up contamination.
“This is what communities around the country have been suffering from for too long. They have been caught holding the bag for contamination that industry or other facilities have created and they need help,” Fox said. “If we see that contamination exists and that there is imminent and substantial danger to communities, we will use our current enforcement authorities to act.”