Michigan lawmakers pop PFAS plans in Congress this week

Clark's Marsh in Oscoda | Michael Gerstein

A recent report showed Michigan has the most known toxic PFAS pollution sites in the nation, and congressional lawmakers have introduced several new bills to address the problem.

A bipartisan collection of Michigan lawmakers released legislation this week dealing with per- and polyfluoroalkyl contamination. More than a dozen bills combating PFAS have been introduced this term.

A map of PFAS sites
PFAS map | DEQ

A Washington, D.C.-based environmental and public health watchdog group found more than 192 Michigan locations polluted with PFAS chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems. They have been found in firefighting foam, Teflon, Scotchgard, cosmetics and other consumer goods.

The Environmental Working Group called the problem “severe,” but noted that the high number is due to the state’s aggressive testing and sampling program, as the Michigan Advance reported.

In other words, environmental regulators in Michigan are finding more locations because they’re looking harder than in many other states, said Scott Dean, spokesman for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Among the recent bills is House Resolution 2626, which would require federal agencies to work with states when PFAS pollution is found near active or former military bases to test, monitor and remove contamination found in the soil and water. The bill would require a federal action plan within one year of a state requesting it.

Rep. Upton at the Aspen Ideas Festival
Fred Upton | Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) are sponsoring the plan.

The legislation comes as more than 200 homes near Oscoda have been impacted by a large plume of the pollution which has spread from the former Wursmith Air Force base to private drinking water wells, groundwater and a nearby lake and river. Residents there have expressed anger to top Pentagon officials over a projected four more years of study before the military can begin cleanup, as the Advance reported.

“PFAS contamination is such a serious issue in our state and in communities across the nation, and I’m proud that Michigan continues to lead the way on bipartisan solutions to effectively address it,” Upton said.

He called the legislation “another important step forward as we work to keep Michiganders and people across the country safe. All levels of government need to be cooperating more and working together so that everyone is on the same page, and that’s what this bill does.”

Lawmakers not waiting for EPA

Rep. Dan Kildee
Dan Kildee testifying at the U.S. House Oversight Committee, March 6, 2019 | House Democrats photo

The Environmental Working Group report found 610 sites nationwide that could be polluted with PFAS chemicals, including 47 known locations in California and 43 in New Jersey. The total includes 117 U.S. military sites, many of which were contaminated by the Air Force’s use of firefighting foam that contains the chemicals.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces criticism over its drawn-out process to set an official drinking water limit for the contamination, Kildee reintroduced a plan with U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) to compel the federal agency to expedite that process.

Kildee traveled to Pennsylvania on Tuesday and visited a contaminated PFAS site and water treatment facilities. He also talked with lawmakers, community leaders and experts about the problem.

Creative Commons

On Wednesday, Kildee and Dingell co-sponsored a separate plan to require the EPA to prohibit the incineration of firefighting foam containing PFAS substances and identify and stop the incineration of other waste that contains the chemicals.

On the same day, Kildee signed on to another bill sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chief Deputy Whip Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) and Fitzpatrick to require the EPA to list PFAS chemicals under its Toxic Release Inventory.

“This bill will shed light on which manufacturers and producers are using PFAS chemicals to help us hold them accountable and protect our communities from this growing public health crisis,” Kildee said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) introduced a separate bipartisan bill to expedite PFAS cleanup on Wednesday. It’s co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and seven other U.S. senators.

U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester), along with Dingell and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), introduced a bill Wednesday — H.R. 2605 — to compel the EPA to add the substances to its list of hazardous air pollutants.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens | Ken Coleman

“PFAS is a critical environmental crisis facing Michiganders,” Stevens said in a statement. “We still have a lot to learn about the extent of PFAS contamination and the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to PFAS chemicals.

In order to adequately and effectively address this threat, we need to acknowledge PFAS as an environmental hazard and conduct much-needed research so that we fully understand the danger that PFAS contamination poses to Michiganders,” Stevens continued.

Dingell introduced legislation in January to force federal environmental regulators to list PFAS under its list of hazardous substances.

“We need an all-hands-on deck response to the growing PFAS contamination in Michigan,” Dingell said in a statement. “It will take all of us – local, state, and federal officials – to identify and clean up contaminated sites.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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