EPW Hearing Statement: Examining the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Examining the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling this hearing.
“Just last week, Administrator Wheeler said that access to clean drinking water was, and I quote, ‘the biggest environmental threat.’ In a typical administration, one could safely assume we would see some urgency from EPA to address what it considers to be the ‘biggest’ environmental threat. But that is not the case here. EPA is simply not approaching the issue of protecting drinking water for millions of Americans with nearly the same urgency and zeal with which it repeals Obama-era regulations.
“That brings us to our central focus today: per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, commonly referred to as, ‘PFAS.’ These chemicals can be found in many household products, as well as in firefighting foam used by the military. Unfortunately, though, some PFAS chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, thyroid problems and other adverse health impacts.
“Just last year, the town of Blades in my home state of Delaware alerted more than 1,000 residents and some area businesses and schools to stop drinking and cooking with public water, because PFAS chemicals were found to be present at nearly twice the federal health advisory level. Just up Route 13 from Blades, 36 of 67 sampled groundwater wells on Dover Air Force Base have reportedly showed dangerously high levels of PFOS and PFOA, two kinds of PFAS chemicals.
“This is not just a problem in Delaware. PFAS contamination is widespread, found in red states and blue states, in small water systems and large ones, from dairy farms in Maine to Air Force bases in Alaska.
“This brings us to the EPA’s PFAS Action Plan. In May 2018, then-Administrator Scott Pruitt held a PFAS National Leadership Summit and announced four ‘concrete steps’ that EPA would take to address PFAS contamination. Scott Pruitt said that, with one of those steps, EPA would decide whether to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS
“Nearly a year after that summit, I asked then-Acting Administrator Wheeler at his confirmation hearing to be Administrator if he would commit to set a drinking water standard for PFAS.
“He would not make that commitment. Shortly after that hearing, press reports revealed that EPA had actually decided not to set a drinking water standard for PFAS. Understandably, this news was met with bipartisan concern. Weeks later, to my dismay, the final PFAS Action Plan essentially re-announced that EPA was still considering the very same four measures that Scott Pruitt had announced almost a year prior – including that the agency would decide whether to set a drinking water standard by the end of this year.
“With Mr. Wheeler’s nomination at stake, Mr. Wheeler was finally forced to commit to setting a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS. This is a considerable victory, except that it will likely take years to complete—because EPA hasn’t even started its work.
“The second step that Scott Pruitt laid out almost a year ago was that EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS as ‘hazardous substances’ under the Superfund law. This move would help to hold polluters responsible for cleaning up contaminated sites. EPA’s PFAS Action Plan said – again – that it would issue this proposal at some unspecified time in the future. I have introduced legislation that has been cosponsored by 30 of my colleagues—in a bipartisan fashion—that puts a one-year deadline on this important action, because the American people deserve to see some urgency on this issue.
“The third step Scott Pruitt announced was that EPA would issue guidance for cleanup standards for PFAS at contaminated sites, by the fall of 2018. That guidance has been trapped at the White House since last August, because the Defense Department has been actively trying to weaken EPA’s proposal.
“Finally, Scott Pruitt said that EPA would assess the risk from other PFAS chemicals. Sadly, the PFAS Action Plan falls short of this promise, too. It does not include a commitment to ensure communities will be given information to assess whether their drinking water is safe from any identified risks.
“At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Wheeler said this, and I quote: ‘It is these Americans that President Trump and his Administration are focused on, Americans without access to safe drinking water or Americans living on or near hazardous sites, often unaware of the health risks they and their families face. Many of these sites have languished for years, even decades. How can these Americans prosper if they cannot live, learn, or work in healthy environments?’
“EPA’s PFAS Action Plan fails to answer that question, and only leads to another: Where is the urgency from EPA on this issue? I hope that the witnesses before us today will commit to moving forward with a range of measures to protect Americans with an appropriate amount of urgency to befit a problem Administrator Wheeler himself says is the biggest environmental threat we face.