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Reps Delgado, Maloney Introduce PFAS Bills

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Two upstate New York Congressmen this week introduced bills aimed at protecting the public from exposure to PFAS chemicals, which have contaminated water supplies in communities across the Northeast.

Representative Antonio Delgado of the 19th District and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of the 18th, both Democrats, this week introduced bills focused on polyfluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS.

Delgado, whose district includes Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh – two communities with groundwater contamination – says he’s seen the impacts firsthand.

He spoke earlier this year on the health effects associated with exposure to PFAS chemicals.

“We’re talking about cancer here. Thyroid, kidney, these are the things that people have succumbed to. And even just unknown health consequences,” said Delgado.

Along with Republican Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Democrat Dan Kildee of Michigan, and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Delgado is introducing a bill that would require PFAS substances to be listed on the Toxic Release Inventory at the Environmental Protection Agency.

This would require manufacturers, processors and producers to report their usage of PFAS chemicals, which is then made publicly available.

Former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck says because it requires companies to self-report, it could be seen as a weakness in the law.

“But it’s also realistic because there are literally tens of thousands of major polluters in the United States and Congress does not give EPA enough money to go out and do testing themselves. So a lot of environmental regulation is self-reporting. And I think it’s important to expand the list of chemicals that are reported on. Think of this as a right-to-know law,” said Enck.

Representative Sean Patrick Maloney represents the City of Newburgh, which has seen PFOS contamination of its water supply linked to firefighting foam used at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Maloney introduced a bill that would require chemicals likes PFOS, PFOA and GenX to be tested under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

When the Act was passed by Congress in 1976, tens of thousands of chemicals were grandfathered in, limiting the ability of government agencies to test or investigate them.

Maloney’s bill would direct EPA to conduct testing of all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and make the results public.

Last year, Maloney authored a provision to require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a study on the long-term health effects of PFOA and PFOS exposure. Here’s Maloney speaking on WAMC’s Congressional Corner earlier this week.

“I’ve passed legislation to have research done on the federal level so we know what the safe level is of PFOA and PFOS in blood, if any, because this is a big national problem, not just here,” said Maloney.

Enck says Maloney’s latest proposal is a little redundant, but said getting federal agencies to act on issues can be slow. She says a directive from Congress with funding and a deadline is important.

“I mean, the sad reality is the people of Newburgh and Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh are essentially guinea pigs. There’s a lot of environmental exposure, very little to prevent that exposure, and now there’s a shift toward testing – what are the long-term health impacts of being exposed to these contaminants. You know, I think it’s good to get these bills introduced. We need to see bipartisan support. These chemicals are the new PCBs and they’re just not getting enough attention,” said Enck.

Today, residents of Hoosick Falls and Newburgh have PFAS-free municipal water, and searches for new water supplies continue. But Maloney’s office estimates 19 million Americans across the country have PFAS chemicals in their drinking water.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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