WASHINGTON, January 29 – Today, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Prevent Future American Sickness (PFAS) Act to require the cleanup of a class of toxic, so-called “forever chemicals”—known by their acronym PFAS—from America’s drinking water.
New laboratory testing found that PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are prevalent in the tap water of 43 American cities. Environmental Working Group scientists now believe PFAS compounds are likely detectable in all major water supplies in the United States and that previous studies dramatically underestimated these toxins’ pervasiveness.
“As hundreds of communities across the country are dealing with toxic PFAS contamination in their drinking water,” Sen. Sanders said, “it is unconscionable that huge corporations like DuPont have, for decades, concealed evidence of how dangerous these compounds are in order to keep profiting at the expense of human health. Congress must pass this legislation to put an end to corporate stonewalling and criminal behavior and tackle this public health crisis. It is not a radical idea to demand that when people in the world’s richest country turn on their taps, the water they drink is free of toxic chemicals.”
“Every American—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income—has the right to be free from exposure to a slew of carcinogens and hazardous chemicals,” said Sen. Merkley. “But millions of people are ingesting dangerous PFAS chemicals against their will through the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat. Congress needs to come together to put the health of our communities above the wish lists of American’s biggest polluters, and that means establishing and enforcing chemical standards that protect Americans from PFAS substances.”
Sen. Markey said, “PFAS pose a serious health risk to residents across Massachusetts and the country. Cleaning up our air, soil, and water of these forever chemicals is an important component of the Green New Deal, as we fight to provide our communities with a future free of the legacy of corporate pollution.”
The PFAS Act requires the EPA to designate PFAS compounds as hazardous substances in order to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up contamination. The legislation also provides grants to households and communities to safely filter out PFAS compounds from their drinking water, while prohibiting the use of PFAS in food packaging and containers. The bill also bans waste incineration of PFAS firefighting foam, a major source of airborne PFAS pollution.
Once released into the environment, PFAS chemicals do not break down, instead accumulating in blood and organs when ingested. PFAS exposure is responsible for cancer, birth defects, and other serious ailments, and is now present in over 98 percent of the U.S. population. The EPA has not yet set any enforceable standard for PFAS under any of its various authorities. In the absence of aggressive federal action, states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Michigan, and New Jersey have imposed robust drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals.
Last year, Sen. Sanders introduced the WATER Act to invest $35 billion a year in our nation’s aging water infrastructure, including federal support for PFAS cleanup and filtration. Sanders also partnered with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to direct the Department of Defense to conduct a survey of where all PFAS firefighting foam is held and also where it has been incinerated. Sanders incorporated these prior legislative efforts into the PFAS Act.
“Senator Sanders has proposed an urgent solution to address the widespread PFAS contamination of our food and water,” said Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “His Prevent Future American Sickness Act of 2020 would rapidly speed up the remediation of toxic PFAS sites across our country. It lays out a plan to finally hold polluters accountable to pay for cleanup of the worst contamination, while providing much needed financial relief for rural homeowners and local governments that need to upgrade treatment plants to remove these forever chemicals. This is the sort of concrete and swift action we need to take to help ensure that every American has access to safe water. Our communities can’t wait; we need Congress to act now to address America’s toxic water crisis.”
Read the legislative text here.
Read a section-by-section overview here.