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U.S. House passes bill mandating action on PFAS; unclear if Senate will consider it

Jim Spencer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping bill Friday to address a growing national pollution crisis involving chemicals linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Per- and polyfluoroakyl substances (PFAS) produced by 3M, DuPont, Chemours and other manufacturers have been used for more than a half-century to make hundreds of products waterproof or heat and stain resistant.

More than 100 million Americans in 1,400 communities have been exposed to PFAS-tainted drinking water, according to a database run by Northeastern University's Social Science Health Research Institute and the Environmental Working Group. PFAS are called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in nature and accumulate in humans.

Supporters of the House bill characterized PFAS water and air pollution as one of the greatest environmental threats faced by Americans. They said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to meet deadlines on a February 2019 action plan to address the PFAS crisis, so Congress had to step in.

Critics of the bill said it usurped proper regulatory processes and scientific study and argued that EPA should be given time to complete its action plan.

The Republican-controlled Senate may not take up the legislation.

 

The Trump administration promised to veto the measure should it pass the Senate. A White House memo called the bill a "litigation risk" that "set problematic precedents" and imposed "unwarranted costs" on the "public and private sectors."

The "PFAS Action Act" passed 247-159 as 24 Republicans joined 223 Democrats in support. Twenty-four members did not vote.

Minnesota's delegation voted along party lines with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed. GOP congressmen Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber did not respond to requests to explain their opposition.

The House, Senate and the White House now find themselves at loggerheads over PFAS as public and private lawsuits claiming environmental and personal injuries mount. Documents collected in those lawsuits show that manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont continued to make and sell PFAS-related products despite warnings from their own scientists that the chemicals represented a potential threat to humans and animals. These include documents obtained by former Minnesota Atty. Gen. Lori Swanson in a PFAS pollution suit against 3M that settled for $850 million in February 2018. In 2006, the EPA fined 3M $1.52 million for 244 violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act, including late reporting of "substantial risk information."

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