House OKs bill labeling PFAS a hazardous chemical

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed sweeping reforms that supporters say will help remove PFAS contaminants from drinking water.

Two dozen Republicans joined 222 Democrats in approving the bill, which would designate PFAS a hazardous chemical under the Superfund Act. That means manufacturers and the U.S. Department of Defense — two of the largest creators of the man-made class of chemical — could be held responsible for a speedy cleanup.

“PFAS is an urgent health and environmental threat, period, and no one can deny that,” a passionate Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said on the House floor Friday as she moved to end the debate over the bill. “The longer we wait, the worse the contamination becomes. The time is now to act.”

PFAS contamination has been found at nearly 300 sites nationwide, particularly near military bases that use a firefighting foam containing the chemicals.

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Filters at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan, clean PFAS from the water. (February 2018)

“PFAS has been detected in 54 Michigan schools,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has been working on its own report to determine cleanup, but lawmakers say they can’t wait. The bill would also force the EPA to come up with a national drinking water standard for PFAS within two years.

“I believe access to clean water out of your tap is a right and not a privilege,” Slotkin said.

But opponents to the bill say that it’s a rush to judgment and will hurt businesses.

“This is the first time in the history of our nation that without science and due diligence, we’re going to label a chemical as toxic,” Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said. “The companies can be sued because there’s no way they can meet the (cleanup) timelines based upon this bill.”

The White House agrees and has promised a presidential veto, saying the bill “will impose substantial, unwarranted costs.”

The bill now advances to the Senate.

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