House votes to order EPA to limit chemicals in water

The House on Wednesday approved a bill setting time limits for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement drinking water regulations for so-called forever chemicals.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are widely used man-made compounds found in manufacturing and consumer products such as Scotchguard, flame retardant materials, non-stick cooking surfaces and fire fighting foam used on bases. military since the 1940s. They have been found in water wells all over California and in thousands of water sources across the country.

Bill approved by a 241 to 182 vote on Wednesday directs the EPA to designate two PFAS compounds as hazardous air and water pollutants, and to establish drinking water regulations for their use within two years of the bill coming into force. For years, the agency has only established one level of non-binding health advisories on compounds in drinking water.

It also gives the EPA four years to set regulations for the discharge of chemicals in stormwater and industrial wastewater, and gives the agency five years to set standards for the use of thousands of other PFAS compounds.

The bill requires the clean-up of PFAS contaminated sites and reimburses local water agencies for their efforts to reduce the amount of PFAS in drinking water.

The compounds do not break down in nature and do not form the human body. A number of studies and surveys have linked the two compounds that are said to be named as dangerous pollutants to cancer and other serious illnesses in recent years.

Representative Frank Pallone (DN.J.) said the chemical industry has been aware of the health effects of compounds for years, but the government has been slow to respond and set meaningful standards.

“We don’t even have PFAS ingredient labeling to allow consumers to protect themselves,” Pallone said. “We cannot delay any longer.

Republicans say the bill is too broad and will essentially ban compounds that have beneficial uses, including as a coating on contact lenses and on law enforcement and medical safety equipment. They say the bill sets unrealistic timelines for reviewing a large group of chemicals that are not clearly defined.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) Called the bill cumbersome, unscientific and a “de facto ban on 9,252 chemicals.”

“This creates a hostile environment for the manufacture and use of PFAS,” which threatens the viability of industries that depend on it, she said.

Similar legislation was passed by the House in January 2020 with bipartisan support, but was blocked in the Senate. Supporters hope that heightened public awareness of the compounds, including the 2019 film “Dark Waters” with actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, will help him gain the support of Senators.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the compounds in late June, but did not review the legislation.

The White House has announced that President Biden will sign the bill if it reaches his office.

Groups that lobbied for regulations hailed the vote as a necessary first step to solve a problem government agencies have known for decades. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, estimates that 200 million Americans in thousands of communities consume PFAS in their drinking water.

“The PFAS Action Act will set much needed timeframes to ensure that the EPA takes the necessary steps to reduce the releases of PFAS to our air, land and water, to filter PFAS from tap water and to clean the water. pollution inherited from PFAS, in particular near the department. defense facilities, ”said Scott Faber, the group’s senior vice president for government affairs, in a statement.

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