EPW Hearing Statement: Examining legislation to address the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
May 22 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a hearing entitled, “Examining legislation to address 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 and for the collaborative way in which you and your staff have approached the Committee’s work on addressing contamination from per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS.
“I suspect that just about every member of this committee has heard from their constituents with concerns about PFAS contamination in their respective states. PFAS can be found nearly everywhere, from non-stick cookware to microwave popcorn bags, to cleaning products and stain-resistant fabrics, as well as to firefighting foam used at military bases and airports across the country.
“In 1973, I was a young naval flight officer stationed at Moffett Field Naval Air Station in California. As I drove to work on a sunny April morning, I could see a large black plume of smoke rising from the air station while still several miles away. A large NASA Convair jet had been cleared to land on the same runway and at the same time as a Navy P-3 aircraft. It took over an hour for firefighters to control the blaze. Later that day, we would learn that sixteen people died, and only one crewman on the P-3 survived.
“I understand that the use of these chemicals in firefighting foam, for example, has supported our military readiness and saved lives. But the cruel irony is that when PFAS winds up in a glass on the kitchen table, those same chemicals can endanger lives. Our colleagues in industry often remind Congress that PFAS chemicals are used in everything from medical devices to solar panels. I think I can speak for almost everyone when I say that’s really not the point. We want PFAS chemicals to stay in the solar panels, and out of the drinking water. That’s why we’re here today.
“These highly persistent and ubiquitous chemicals are threatening the drinking water of millions of people. In the southwestern corner of Delaware, the people of the small town of Blades were told last year to stop drinking the water there because PFAS chemicals were found to be present at nearly twice the federal health advisory level. And at the Dover Air Force Base, roughly 50 miles away, more than half of the groundwater wells tested showed dangerously high levels of PFOS and PFOA. A recently released map shows that more than 600 locations in 43 states are contaminated – and those are just the known locations.
“My hope is that the witnesses before us today will work constructively with our committee as we forge a consensus approach to solving this complex problem. And, my hope is that we all leave here today in strong agreement that Congress must take action soon – because this is an issue that deserves our urgency.
“One might think that the extent of this problem would lead the Trump EPA to respond with a sense of urgency. But that has not been the case. First, EPA’s 2019 PFAS Action Plan largely includes commitments to consider whether to regulate PFAS contamination, steps that Scott Pruitt announced almost a year earlier. Second, Administrator Wheeler refused to commit to setting a drinking water standard for PFAS until public and Congressional outcry forced him to reverse course before he was confirmed. And, finally, EPA weakened its draft guidance for cleaning up contaminated PFAS sites following pressure from the Defense Department.
“It’s no surprise that many states are taking matters into their own hands and setting their own drinking water and clean-up standards. Neither is it a surprise that many elected officials have concluded that federal legislation is needed to more urgently and decisively address this challenge. Six pieces of bipartisan legislation that seek to do just that are the subject of today’s hearing.
“Among other things, these bills seek to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Superfund law, compel EPA to set a safe drinking water standard for PFAS within two years, inform the public when PFAS chemicals are being released into the environment, as well as create faster clean-ups and more interagency coordination, research, and monitoring technologies. While some of the bills before this committee propose to regulate every single PFAS chemical, others have concluded that all of these chemicals do not pose the same safety risk, and they have raised implementation concerns about immediately regulating every single PFAS chemical at once.
“One approach to addressing this concern lies in the PFAS Release Disclosure Act authored by Senator Capito, on which my staff and I were proud to work and cosponsor along with Senator Gillibrand. That bill would immediately add almost 200 of the 602 PFAS chemicals currently in commerce to the Toxic Release Inventory so the public will be informed when those chemicals are released into the environment. The bill does this by acknowledging that EPA has already used its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to find that these specific PFAS chemicals do pose a risk. Thus, there is no need to do more research or spend more time before adding these chemicals to the Toxic Release Inventory. The bill also ensures that in the future, whenever EPA finds that additional PFAS chemicals pose a risk, these chemicals will also be included in the Toxic Release Inventory. I am especially interested in our witnesses’ views on this approach.
“In the Navy, when faced with an especially challenging mission, we’d call for ‘all hands on deck.’ Today, we need a different kind of all hands on deck, but we need one nonetheless. When this committee overhauled TSCA, we did so with a partnership that included EPA, industry, and many environmental and public health organizations.
“We need for those same partners to pull together again now in order to support this committee’s work to expeditiously develop legislation to address the PFAS contamination problems that we face in communities across the U.S. A growing number of Americans are counting on us to do just that. Let’s not let them down.
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony.”