The Lead

Pa. Rep. Madeleine Dean, others ask for $10M study on PFAS contamination

By: - April 2, 2019 2:13 pm

With residents in her Pennsylvania district dealing with contaminated water, a suburban Philadelphia lawmaker has asked the federal Defense department to help clean up its own mess.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, joined by nearly two dozen members of Congress, asked a powerful U.S. House Committee to kick loose $10 million in already authorized spending for a nationwide study of the health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater.

The man-made chemicals — used in everything from fire-fighting foam to clothing and nonstick pans — are found on military bases — including one in Montgomery County, Pa., in Dean’s district — and in other U.S. communities.

They have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, and environmental and public health advocates want faster cleanup and strict guidelines for the allowable limits of the chemicals in drinking water.

“For decades, the Department of Defense has used firefighting foam that contained PFAS substances — and these chemicals have contaminated groundwater across the country,” Dean said in a statement released by her office. “A growing body of research has connected these compounds with serious health risks, including certain types of cancer and impaired immune system performance. By identifying these risks as precisely as we can, we’ll finally be in a position to regulate PFAS chemicals appropriately — and keep our drinking water safe.”

The study that Dean and her colleagues asked for has already been authorized under the fiscal 2019 version of the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s now up to the subcommittee to decide whether to spend the money.

In addition to Dean, Pennsylvania U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, and Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, along with U.S. Reps. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., were the lead signatories to the letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Twenty more members of Congress, of both parties, also signed the letter.

Last week, bipartisan members of a U.S. Senate committee told Trump White House officials that the administration was not moving swiftly enough to deal with what’s widely considered a looming public health threat.

in February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an “action plan” aimed at addressing the health problems stemming from PFAS contamination. But critics have complained that it isn’t aggressive enough.

At that Senate hearing, David Ross, the EPA’s top water official, said the agency is committed to “proposing a regulatory determination this year” and would “move through that process as expeditiously as possible.”

But Ross declined to give a timeline for regulating PFAS in drinking water. “It’s a long process, to be frank,” Ross said, adding that the agency was committed to using the best science possible.

Fitzpatrick, whose Bucks County-based district, has also contended with PFAS issues, has emerged as a forceful voice for regulation and remediation. 

During a House hearing in March, Fitzpatrick warned that PFAS contamination is “one of the most widespread public health crises we, as a nation, currently face.”

Fitzpatrick pointed to constituents in West Rockhill Township, whose water supplies were contaminated by PFAS chemicals decades after firefighters had used them to fight a massive tire fire there in 1986. More than 30 years later, PFAS levels in the water supply for many households in West Rockhill Township test at some of the highest levels in the country, Fitzpatrick said.

Dean, a former Pennsylvania state House member who won election to Congress last November, is co-sponsoring two bills aimed at fighting PFAS contamination. One would allocate $45 million to the U.S. Geological Survey “to develop new PFAS detection technology and conduct nationwide environmental sampling,” her office said in its statement. The mapping would aid in eventual remediation efforts, she said.

The other would ensure that a blood test is administered to military firefighters who may have come in contact with PFAS while doing their jobs.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.