Read the full article by Pat Elder (Earth Island Journal)
“The Democratic leadership in the House and the nation’s leading environmental organizations have praised the PFAS Action Act, although the measure is a disaster for public health and the environment on several fronts. The bill passed the House of Representatives on January 10 with a 247-159 vote, with 223 Democrats and 24 Republicans voting for the measure.
Overwhelmingly positive media coverage of the legislation has focused on the long-overdue provision that would require the US Environmental Protection Agency to designate two chemical compounds, PFOS and PFOA, as hazardous substances under the Superfund program. Such a designation would force the Pentagon to foot the bill for cleaning up hundreds of contaminated military bases and surrounding communities in the United States. The “hazardous substances” designation for these compounds was stripped from the annual, must-pass National Defense Authorization Act in December by Senate Republicans.
For over half a century, the Department of Defense (DOD) has used the carcinogens in firefighting foams during routine training exercises on military bases. The substances work well in extinguishing petroleum-based fires, the kind that might engulf a $100 million F-35 fighter jet. But the cancer-causing agents have been allowed to seep into the ground to poison ground water, surface water, and drinking water. The groundwater plumes spread for miles.
The bill is now in the hands of Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, protects the interests of the DOD and the chemical industry in Congress, so he is opposed to designating the human carcinogens as hazardous substances. Barrasso is in no hurry to push the legislation and it has disappeared from public attention.
If Chairman Barrasso doesn’t want a specific provision to pass, it’s very likely it will not. If the DOD and the chemical industry don’t want a specific provision to pass, it’s very likely it will not. Meanwhile, President Trump says he’ll veto the bill passed by the House because it would open the federal government up to “considerable litigation.”
We’re witnessing the best democracy money can buy.
Sen. Barrasso is the top recipient of cash from the chemical industry in the Senate and he says the measure “has no prospects in the Senate.” The powerful chairman is “negotiating” from a position of strength as the Senate undertakes the measure, which has been seriously pared down by the Democratic-controlled House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, and the bill’s lead sponsor Debbie Dingell are all pleased with the work they’ve done, although the bill does more to keep the military and corporate entities shielded from liability than it does to protect public health.
HR 535 only designates PFOS and PFOA as hazardous chemicals — while much of the scientific community regards all the compound in the PFAS group, that add up to more than 6,000, a threat to public health.
HR 535 directs the EPA to test all varieties of PFAS, but how long will it take for this snail-paced institution under the control of industry insider Andrew Wheeler to get through the paperwork? Rather than starting with the premise that all PFAS substances are potentially fatal and should be immediately banned until each one is proven by a ton of science to be okay for, say, water-guzzling pregnant women, Congress is going about it the other way around. That is to say that all PFAS are okay until we start looking at all 6,000 of them — one at a time — and we’ll let you know if we determine if one is a baddie and should be designated as a hazardous substance under the Superfund law. This is precisely what the chemical industry is paying Congress to do.
PFOS and PFOA are eight-carbon chain varieties of per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been phased out of production. They’re no longer used. But since these compounds don’t biodegrade, they persist in the environment. In the meantime, they’ve been replaced by six-carbon chain varieties of PFAS that equally harmful.