Advance Notice: Briefs

Kildee reintroduces plan for PFAS limit in drinking water

By: - April 30, 2019 5:40 pm

Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda | Michael Gerstein

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) has reintroduced a bill to prompt a federal deadline for setting a limit on the amount of toxic chemicals known as PFAS allowed in the nation’s drinking water.

Rep. Dan Kildee
Dan Kildee testifying at the U.S. House Oversight Committee, March 6, 2019 | House Democrats photo

Kildee’s legislation would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set an enforceable drinking water limit for two types of the class of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals. The EPA is currently in the process of creating a nationwide drinking water limit for those two substances: PFOS and PFOA.

Robyn Bryan, spokeswoman for Kildee, said the Democratic congressman reintroduced the legislation from the last U.S. Congress in part because the EPA has continually delayed setting a limit for the substances, which have been associated with other health problems in addition to cancer.

Bryan said the nudge is necessary because “we can’t wait for the EPA and we don’t know when they’re going to do it. … This would really just give them a firm timeline.”

The EPA said in mid-February it would begin to research an official drinking water limit for the chemicals found in consumer goods and military bases across the nation. That process began under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt when he said last May that the federal agency would begin to study the chemical and consider a drinking water threshold.

Acting EPA director Andrew Wheeler
Andrew Wheeler

That effort has dragged into acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s tenure. The EPA has still not created a formal rule, and has so far proposed weaker draft standards than those originally proposed for toxic cleanup at hazardous sites.

It recommended that the current drinking water advisory threshold of 70 parts per trillion become the enforceable limit — a standard that some health and environment advocates have criticized as too low.

Wheeler said in February that he has “every intention of setting” a legal limit for PFOS and PFOA. The two substances are two of the most common PFAS substances found in groundwater and in more than 1.5 million Michigan residents’ drinking water at low levels, according to a recent MLive investigation.

Meanwhile, residents in Oscoda —  where some of Michigan’s highest concentrations of the two toxins plague the small town — are frustrated by the slow pace at which Air Force officials have addressed contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base, as the Michigan Advance reported last week.

Kildee is chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus and co-chair of a congressional PFAS task force along with U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.). Fitzpatrick is co-sponsoring the legislation, along with U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

A map of PFAS sites
PFAS map | DEQ

“President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is entrusted with keeping our drinking water safe but has delayed protecting our families from toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water,” Kildee said in a statement.

“This is unacceptable. We know that PFAS chemicals are harmful to human health and families deserve safe water from their taps. I am proud to stand with my colleagues today to protect drinking water in Michigan and at the thousands of sites across the country impacted by PFAS.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.