The Lead

Pa. U.S. Reps. Boyle, Fitzpatrick want to force federal action on PFAS

By: - May 3, 2019 1:03 pm

Two Pennsylvania congressmen joined forces this week with a colleague from Michigan to try to compel federal action on PFAS, an industrial chemical compound that’s contaminated drinking water across the state and nation.

A bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, and Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, along with U.S. Rep.  Dan Kildee, D-Mich., would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a nationwide, enforceable standard for PFAS contaminants.

The toxic chemical compounds have been linked to decreased fertility and immunity and an increased risk of cancer in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They were first found in elevated levels in public and private water wells near military bases in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014.

The federal government doesn’t currently have legally enforceable regulations for PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has only set a “health advisory level,” a non-enforceable guideline for state and local governments to use in their own monitoring.

What are PFAS chemicals and what is Pennsylvania doing about them?

Boyle, Fitzpatrick, and Kildee say that’s not enough. If the EPA won’t set a maximum standard for PFAS levels in drinking water, they say, it’s up to Congress to adopt regulations that will keep drinking water safe.

“It is past time we address these contaminants with the seriousness they merit,” Boyle said in a statement. “Public health is at stake while the EPA continues to dither and delay setting enforceable limits on these chemicals.  This is unacceptable … No American should question the safety of their drinking water — period.”

Other states with PFAS contamination, including New Jersey, have started to impose their own standards in the absence of stronger federal regulation. Pennsylvania has adopted the EPA’s guideline of 70 parts per trillion, but a growing body of research suggests that PFAS chemicals are harmful at much lower concentrations.  

A bill in Pennsylvania’s state Senate, introduced by Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, would set a maximum contaminant level in Pennsylvania at 10 parts per million.

Collett, a nurse and attorney by training, told the Capital-Star last month that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection should set its own standard for PFAS if the federal government drags its feet.

Since PFAS contamination was first discovered in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014, municipal governments and utility authorities have invested millions of dollars in testing and cleaning their water supplies.

Many local officials and members of the public say that state and federal regulators have not provided enough money or legislative effort to regulate and eradicate the chemicals in Pennsylvania.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.