New York Democratic members of Congress are calling for action after news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not move to set limits for PFAS chemicals – a group of believed carcinogens found in several Northeast communities.
On Tuesday, local Congressional officials began reacting to news that the EPA under acting administrator Andrew Wheeler would not set maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS.
Paul Tonko of New York’s 20th District chairs the House Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee.
“If this report is indeed true, we’re going to have a lot of work here to make certain that they turn their opinion around. Failing to establish national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS would be a clear betrayal of affected families and communities across the country. Some of that happened in our backyard,” said Tonko.
The compounds have contaminated water supplies in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, and Newburgh, New York, Bennington, Vermont, and other communities.
Fellow Democrat Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th District, who represents Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, was recently named to a task force on PFAS.
Delgado and Long Island Republican Peter King represent New York state on the task force.
Delgado called it “disturbing” that the EPA would move to not regulate PFAS chemicals.
“We’re talking about contamination that is affecting 110 million Americans,” said Delgado. “And the EPA has estimated that there are approximately 5,000 different PFAS chemicals used in commercial products currently on the market. We know and I know with firsthand knowledge that people have suffered vitally having been affected by PFAS.”
The freshman Democrat wrote to Wheeler Wednesday, urging EPA to: set maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS, designate PFAS as a hazardous substance, require testing for PFAS in all public water systems, take steps to ensure affected communities are eligible for Superfund cleanup, suspend the approvals of new PFAS chemicals, and create measures to hold polluters responsible.
Delgado said it was the EPA, under former Regional Administrator Judith Enck, that helped spur action in Hoosick Falls three years ago.
“And now we’re in a situation where we’re not even having the work done by the EPA to make that we’re continuing to inform communities. So it’s a very, very important issue and it’s one that I certainly want to make sure I stay on top of moving forward,” said Delgado.
Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney of New York’s 18th District represents Newburgh, where PFOS contamination in the city’s water supply has been linked to the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base.
Maloney said in a statement Tuesday, “If the EPA has decided to protect polluters instead of human health, it’s up to Congress to pass legislation to force them to do the right thing.”
Maloney authored a law that requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure.
Maloney, along with Tonko, in May pushed the Trump administration to release a report detailing the health effects of PFAS chemicals that had reportedly been delayed.
Tonko signed onto a letter Tuesday requesting more information on any alleged moves to delay scientific data on PFAS chemicals. With Democrats now in power in the House of Representatives, Tonko is hoping for action.
“The committees that are maintained by or led by the Democratic majority, we’re going to want to make certain that EPA is doing its job to protect the American public. Millions of Americans are affected by this and it’s important for us to shed light on what’s happening or not happening,” said Tonko.
EPA currently has a health advisory level at 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
In December, the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council recommended MCLs of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.