Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on PFAS Contamination

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on how PFAS contamination is affecting communities across the country.

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

“Recognizing the critical importance of the matter before us today, I am pleased to call this hearing to order.

“And, I am particularly pleased to welcome a panel of witnesses uniquely prepared to help us understand better the impacts of PFAS in our lives, our communities, and our states. A warm welcome to Joanne Stanton, Jim Kenney, Scott Mandirola, and Tracy Mehan. Thank you all for your willingness to share your experiences and perspectives with us.

“As you all may know, I am privileged to represent Delaware, one of the smallest states in our Union, albeit a state that oftentimes punches above its weight. Despite the fact that our population numbers just under a million people, every one of our three Delaware counties has been plagued by the presence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

“In fact, while I hate to say it, there is not one of the states represented by the Senators sitting around this dais—or in the entire Senate—that is not struggling to address this problem for their citizens and communities.

“If this were merely a question of some pesky pollutant that occasionally finds its way into our groundwater and water wells on a very localized level, that would be one thing. 

“That is not the situation we all face today. 

“What we’re dealing with here is an almost universal, persistent toxin whose presence in our water—at levels measured in parts per trillion—creates a very real risk of adverse developmental effects to fetuses and breastfed infants, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, as well as harmful changes to the thyroid and the immune system. 

“This is not just a public health concern. The presence of PFAS in our communities and our drinking water is having a major impact on livelihoods, as well. People in affected communities are worried about falling property values, and farmers with contaminated lands and dairy herds are—well—out of business in a number of cases.

“According to Bloomberg News, Stoneridge Farms—a 100-year-old family business near Arundel, Maine—was forced to shutter in 2019 due to PFAS contamination from sludge that was spread on the farm as fertilizer. As we’ll hear shortly in testimony here, the farm in Maine is far from the only farm adversely affected by PFAS contaminated sludge.

“We will also hear that states across America are scrambling to protect citizens and restore contaminated lands and waters in the absence of needed federal action on PFAS. 

“In early May, Attorneys General from 18 states and the District of Columbia commented on the challenges posed by EPA inaction in their comments to EPA on its proposed rule to required public water systems to test for 29 PFAS compounds. In those comments, these AGs said, and I quote:

‘Millions of people across the United States are exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water and widespread releases of PFAS into the environment. Many of the states have limited resources to comprehensively assess and address PFAS. Therefore, it is crucial for EPA to broadly regulate PFAS . . . to protect public health and the environment.’

“Another outcome of varied state approaches to regulating PFAS is the familiar challenge of a patchwork of regulatory requirements, which could hamper an effective and efficient national effort to manage a nationwide public health threat. It will not be long before we all hear from our business communities about the challenge of meeting disparate requirements amongst the states.

“The bottom line is this: PFAS is a sinister and pervasive threat to our families’ health, a drag on local, state, and national economies, and a problem that will not go away on its own. We need strategic national policies, programs, and investments to help us determine where PFAS contamination is, the health threats that these chemicals can pose, the best methods to rid our water and lands of this so-called ‘forever’ chemical, and a host of other issues that are related with this class of chemicals.

“What we lack—and I suspect all our witnesses here today will agree—is a sense of urgency to address these and other questions and to provide the relief that many affected communities and families need, particularly those with vulnerable infants and children.”