A bill seeking to limit exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water and in the environment has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, despite opposition from seven of Indiana’s nine representatives.
The PFAS Action Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Michigan, would set the pathway for PFAS chemicals to be designated hazardous substances, opening the door for future regulation of the chemical family in drinking water and clean up under Superfund legislation.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 241 to 183, with all of Indiana’s Republican representatives voting against the bill.
Rep. Jim Baird, who voted against the bill, represents a large chunk of central Indiana stretching from Newton County to Morgan County known as the Fourth Congressional District.
Baird said he supports efforts to address PFAS contamination, but believes the bill stifles American innovation, reduces health preparedness and weakens the country’s competitiveness.
“This legislation drastically restricts the availability of life-saving medical devices, limits safety systems in automobiles and airplanes, and places an all-consuming burden on the EPA which limits its ability to focus on other pressing issues that fall under its purview and will likely result in costly lawsuits,” Baird said in a written statement.
Indiana’s two Democrats in the House, Rep. Andre Carson and Rep. Frank Mrvan, voted in favor of the bill.
"I proudly voted for the PFAS Action Act because I believe it's a vital step to protect our environment and public health. PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals,’ and the risks they pose are significant. Every day, millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to them,” Carson said in a statement. “This legislation will curb the flow of these chemicals into our environment, helping to preserve nature in our state and improve Hoosiers' health. I am especially pleased that this bill passed with bipartisan support, showing that the urgency of this priority is understood on both sides of the aisle. I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible."
The bill has now been sent to the U.S. Senate. It must first be passed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in order to be heard by the full Senate.
Indiana’s two U.S. Senators, Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, have not responded to the Indiana Environmental Reporter’s questions about whether they would support the legislation.
If the bill passes the U.S. Senate, it would set a one-year deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund Act.
It would also set a five-year deadline for the EPA to determine whether all PFAS chemicals, except certain exempt chemicals, should also be designated hazardous substances.
The designation would give the federal government power to direct PFAS manufacturers and users to report how much PFAS they produce and use and to enforce cleanups of the chemicals like it does for thousands of other hazardous substances.
The bill also includes other provisions for testing requirements, drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, limitations on PFAS destruction and other items.
PFAS chemicals have been found in the drinking water of some military installations and public water systems in Indiana.
The danger from PFAS chemicals is long term, as they stay in the human body for a long time and accumulate.
Sampling at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Naval Support Activity Crane and other Department of Defense facilities found evidence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water, but at levels below the EPA’s lifetime health advisories of 70 parts per trillion.
Samples collected by the Environmental Working Group in Indianapolis found PFAS chemicals in tap water at 15 parts per trillion.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management tested community water systems serving more than 10,000 people for PFAS in 2014 and 2015 as part of the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.
Only one water system tested positive for PFAS chemicals at the time, the Dyer Water Department. Samples tested positive for PFOS and another PFAS chemical, PFHxS. IDEM later said no verified PFAS detections were found during the sampling event.
IDEM is currently undertaking a new PFAS sampling event over the next three years. The agency will test all community water systems in the state serving at least 25 people.
This year, IDEM will test water systems serving between 3,300 and 10,000 people. Between this November and December 2022, IDEM will test water systems serving less than 3,300 people. The final phase of testing will target water systems serving more than 10,000 people. Sampling is planned between January and May 2023.