Pa. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick wants EPA to get tough in efforts to clean up toxic chemicals in drinking water

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick on Wednesday urged the Trump administration to crack down on dangerous chemicals contaminating drinking water in Pennsylvania and other areas across the country.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District (WikiMedia Commons)

At a hearing held by the House Oversight Committee, the Pennsylvania Republican warned that the prevalence of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, represents “one of the most widespread public health crises we as a nation currently face.”

Fitzpatrick, who represents the Bucks County-based 1st District, stressed that some of the highest concentrations of the chemicals have been found in his community.

The man-made chemicals — used in everything from fire-fighting foam to clothing and nonstick pans — are found on military bases 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.

Fitzpatrick pointed to his 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.

The Republican lawmaker called on the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund Act and to establish allowable limits for the chemicals in drinking water.

“With these two regulatory actions, our constituents will be given the protection they need after so many years of inaction,” he said.

Democrats on the committee, meanwhile, accused EPA and the Defense Department of failing to act quickly enough to clean up contamination and to regulate the chemicals.

The Trump EPA announced an “action plan” in February to address the health problems, but Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and other lawmakers said that isn’t enough.

“By recognizing these chemicals as hazardous substances, the EPA can then require polluters to clean up contamination they cause,” Kildee said. “I have to admit I was quite disappointed to see the plan not specify a timeline to begin taking meaningful action on cleanup or establishing a national health standard for PFAS in drinking water.”

Kildee is Fitzpatrick’s co-chairman on the congressional PFAS task force. Both Kildee and Fitzpatrick testified at the oversight hearing.

David Ross, the head of EPA’s water office, touted the agency’s PFAS action plan as an important step forward in addressing the public health concerns. Dealing with the contamination is a “top priority” for the EPA, Ross told lawmakers.

Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Calif., the chairman of the oversight subcommittee that held Wednesday’s hearing, questioned EPA’s “sense of urgency” on tackling PFAS, pressing Ross for specific timelines and milestones.

“We are committed to getting a proposed regulatory determination out this year, and then we’ll work through that system that Congress has established for us as expeditiously as we can,” Ross replied.

Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., pointed to comments former Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made last year, calling PFAS contamination a “national emergency.”

A year later, “EPA has still not regulated these chemicals,” Hill said, asking Ross whether he would also consider the problem a national emergency.

Ross stopped short of using the word emergency.

He said, “We do believe it is a major national issue for EPA and our federal partners to address. This is an emerging issue and we have been working it aggressively.”

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