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US House passes bill regulating PFAS

January 10, 2020
In The News

The US House this morning passed the PFAS Action Act, 247-159, which would strengthen the nearly non-existent regulations for toxic perfluorinated compounds. PFAS are widespread in the environment, particularly in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. The compounds are found throughout North Carolina, where it has contaminated drinking water.

The bill had bipartisan support among the North Carolina delegation. Democrats David Price, G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams voted for the bill, as did Republicans George Holding, David Rouzer and Richard Hudson.

Hudson, who represents the Eighth Congressional District, successfully added two amendments to the bill, one that directs the EPA to investigate methods to prevent contamination by GenX of surface waters, including sources of drinking water; and another that makes communities impacted by GenX contamination eligible for certain grants.

GenX is a type of perfluorinated compound.

“Until I know the science behind GenX, until I know exactly what safe levels and unsafe levels of exposure are, and until we can adequately clean up the exposure we’ve had in North Carolina, I am not going to be satisfied. While I understand it takes time to develop the scientific evidence to make these decisions, my neighbors are tired of waiting. We must act now,” Hudson wrote in a prepared statement.

Voting against the measure were Republicans Dan Bishop, Virginia Foxx, Greg Murphy, who is also a doctor; Mark Meadows, Tedd Budd and Patrick McHenry.

Rep. Mark Walker did not vote.

PFAS, of which there are thousands, are used in myriad products, including Teflon cookware, floor waxes, water- and stain-resistant upholstery and clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foams. Exposure to these compounds has been linked to several types of cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, low birth weight, and thyroid disorders.

The bill is expansive. If it becomes law, it would enact regulations that the EPA so far as failed to do.

  • Designating PFAS has a hazardous substance, including hazardous air pollutants, which would make them subject to stronger regulations, including those regarding their storage and disposal;
  • Requiring the EPA to set enforceable drinking water standards; 
  • Requiring public water systems to test and monitor for the compounds (grants and other financial help would be available for cash-strapped or small systems);
  • Adding PFOA, PFAS, GenX and two other compounds to the Toxics Release Inventory (the TRI is a public database where companies report their discharges and emissions of certain chemicals);
  • Providing guidance on minimizing the use of firefighting foam; and
  • Expanding EPA’s Safer Choice program to alert consumers to household products made with PFAS.

The measure now goes to the Senate. If it passes that chamber, President Trump could still veto it. Trump has threatened to veto a comprehensive national defense bill that contained PFAS provisions because he believes the cleanup levels are too onerous for the military to meet.