House Panel Hears From Witnesses on Risks to Water From ‘Forever Chemicals’

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The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals,” questioning witnesses on the chemicals’ dangers and sparking debate over the proper role of the federal government in managing the country’s waters.

The hearing comes amid heavy media coverage of PFAS regulation, including an Oct. 3 segment on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” and shortly after California banned PFASs from many consumer goods.

“This is our first hearing in about 10 years on emerging and persistent threats to our water and how these threats affect human health and the health of our communities and our environment,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), chair of the subcommittee, in her opening statement.

She went on to claim that the Trump administration had “needlessly weakened” provisions of the Clean Water Act while also politicizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and otherwise undermining its activities.

Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), the senior Republican on the subcommittee, said he supported efforts to have the EPA prioritize PFAS.

“There’s a lot that we still don’t know—more study, research, and development are needed,” he said.

“With this gap in knowledge, we need to ensure any regulatory actions or requirements are backed by science and done thoughtfully to protect communities and reduce risk. A good, strong manufacturing base that produces products American consumers want I believe can coexist with efforts to improve the environment, if done properly.”

Elizabeth Southerland, retired EPA director of science and technology, told the committee that the United States is “suffering from a reactive system” rather than one that proactively addresses pollution.

“Congress should require the federal government to develop and maintain a priority list of newly identified harmful chemicals for use by federal and state water monitoring programs. Once monitoring data identified where these contaminants pose risk, EPA and the states can control these discharges to the nation’s waters using Clean Water Act authorities,” she said.

By Nathan Worcester

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