Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on EPA’s PFAS Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing to assess the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s ongoing and proposed responses to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in our environment, particularly in our nation’s waters.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Good morning, everyone. I am pleased to call this hearing to order.

“I am particularly pleased to welcome back to our hearing room Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox. As you well know, Ms. Fox, we are all quite interested to learn more about EPA’s plans to tackle the complicated challenges associated with the presence of forever chemicals, known as PFAS, in the environment and our lives. And, I very much appreciate your leadership in pulling EPA’s strategic roadmap together to confront PFAS contamination head-on.

“As a Naval flight officer, I flew with the confidence that firefighting crews on the ground would have the backs of my aircrew and others in the event of an accident. After all, the firefighting crews had a PFAS-containing foam that could be called upon to extinguish fires quickly.

“Like most Americans, I have welcomed many of the products created through modern chemistry: from non-stick pans and waterproof jackets to stain-proof furniture fabric and, even, dental floss. It’s amazing stuff. It can resist sticky and staining food while smothering flames and lasting seemingly forever.

“But, that’s not all these chemicals can do. Because they are so persistent—hence the name ‘forever chemicals’—the lion’s share of these substances do not break down in the environment. 

“Instead, what they do is accumulate. And, where do they accumulate? In plants, in animals, and ultimately in our bodies, in our children, and in our grandchildren. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, 97 percent of us carry PFAS inside of us. And, several of these forever chemicals have proven to be toxic, causing, among other maladies, liver damage, thyroid disease, fertility problems, immune issues, and even cancer.

“There is no question that these chemicals are widely used and understandably so. Since the 1940s, it is estimated that more than 9,000 PFAS chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world. And, creative chemists are finding ever more uses for these chemicals—from enabling lighter-weight materials for our electric vehicles, better components for the batteries of the future, to high-efficiency methods for cooling huge and energy-hungry servers that keep us connected.

“Embracing the miracles of modern chemistry comes with a price—and a grave responsibility. We have to keep the lessons of Parkersburg, West Virginia; Hoosick Falls, New York; and the Cape Fear River in North Carolina fresh in our minds as we—in government, in business, and in communities across the country—plot our course going forward.

“As has so often been the case, many times we embrace the miracles of modern chemistry before we fully understand the complete consequences of doing so. Remember chemicals like PCBs, DDT, and dioxins?

“Sadly, with PFAS, as with many of its predecessors, we have invested billions of dollars to develop the chemistry and not enough in anticipating and preventing their adverse effects. So, that leaves us with a grave predicament on our hands and an extraordinarily complex and expensive process to deal with.

“And, that brings us to the topic of our hearing today. I am extremely grateful to you, Ms. Fox, and all of the hardworking career staff at EPA for investing the time to thoughtfully and strategically address our daunting PFAS challenges—not only the legacy of past contamination in our land, waters, and bodies, but also the future threats posed by our ongoing and future use of these compounds.

“As we’ve heard from the witnesses who participated in our hearing on PFAS contamination earlier this year, Americans deserve a robust, national strategy when it comes to addressing this pervasive public health threat.

“While I am encouraged by EPA’s issuance of a new PFAS roadmap, the key to meaningful change lies in its timely, complete implementation.

“This will, no doubt, be a heavy lift, especially for EPA and also for many of us.

“Ranking Member Capito, I look forward to working with you, all of our EPW colleagues, our Senate colleagues who are not on this committee, and other stakeholders to support and supplement EPA’s work—as needed—to ensure that we avoid the mistakes and heartbreak we have experienced with novel compounds too often in the past.”