WASHINGTON — Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday charged leading chemical corporations with downplaying the health and environmental harms of a class of chemicals known as PFAS and for dodging their full legal and financial responsibility.
A representative for 3M, which uses per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to manufacture Scotchgard, testified that the substances — which have been linked to cancer, decreased fertility, developmental delays and other health problems —- don’t harm human health and never have.
Denise R. Rutherford, senior vice president of corporate affairs at 3M, testified that “the weight of scientific evidence does not establish that PFAS cause any adverse human health effects at current or past levels typically found in the environment.”
She appeared at a U.S. House hearing on PFAS.
“This is ridiculous,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), co-chair of the congressional PFAS task force. “There’s plenty of science out there that demonstrates these are harmful chemicals and dangerous for human consumption. Otherwise, you wouldn’t take them off the market in the first place.”
Kildee accused the companies of trying to have it both ways.
“So you want to get credit for the decision to no longer produce these dangerous chemicals voluntarily, but, in the same breath, want us to believe that there’s no science that says that those chemicals are dangerous at all,” he said.
Kildee’s comment came after a series of rapid-fire questions from U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit).
In an exchange with Daryl Roberts, chief operations and engineering officer of DuPont de Nemours, she probed allegations that the company suppressed scientific evidence pointing to the harmful effects of PFAS and asked if the company planned to fully compensate victims.
“So even though you contaminated other sites, you don’t want to pay for that?” Tlaib asked. “How about injuries; people dying; medical costs?”
Roberts responded DuPont is committed to cleaning up sites that it owns and operates. But Tlaib dismissed answer as “lawyer talk” and called it the equivalent of walking away from a problem it created before separating from its spinoff company, Chemours, several years ago.
‘A manmade crisis’
Used in everything from microwave popcorn bags nonstick pans to firefighting foam, PFAS has been found in high concentrations in public water systems, military bases, airports and other sites in states around the country.
But the chemicals are of special concern in Michigan, which has more known contaminated sites than any other state, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn). That’s because the state has taken aggressive action to identify contaminated sites, she said.
“We’ve got too many communities that are being impacted by this,” Dingell said. “We don’t know how to clean it up, and we don’t know what the long-term impacts are. We’ve got to understand what did corporations know, and when did they know it.”
High concentrations of PFAS have been found at the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Detroit, in Melvindale sewer systems, in military installations that use firefighting foam, a tannery dump in Rockford, and other areas, according to the PFAS Action Response Team at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).
“This is a manmade crisis,” Tlaib said. “And people like residents in my district are the ones who have suffered from it.”
The hearing — held the week Congress returned from its six-week long summer recess — was the third in the U.S. House on the matter this year. In addition to PFAS’ health risks, the hearings have explored current levels of PFAS contamination around the country, efforts to clean it up, and corporate knowledge of the issue.
It came a week after the White House raised objections to PFAS provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill that authorizes funding for the Department of Defense.
In June, the U.S. Senate passed a version of the NDAA that includes provisions to monitor PFAS contamination, eliminate a major source of it, require manufacturers report PFAS discharge. In July, the House passed its own version of the defense authorization bill with its own PFAS amendments.
The White House threatened to veto the bill, in part over objections to certain PFAS provisions.
The White House also raised concerns about PFAS provisions in a Sept. 4 letter to House and Senate leaders of the Armed Services Committees, which have jurisdiction over the bill.
The White House “strongly objects” to provisions in the U.S. Senate version of the bill that would authorize the DOD to detect and disclose safe drinking water levels and treat contaminated water sources on military installations. It also opposes a provision that would bar the DOD from using fluorinated firefighting foam before it identifies a “viable equivalent replacement.”
“Many of these provisions are neither grounded in science nor consistent with statutory requirements that provide for the important consideration of scientific and technical information,” the letter states. As such, they impose high costs and run the risk of litigation, the letter states.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) took issue with the administration’s position.
“The White House’s objections to bipartisan efforts to deal with this crisis are simply wrong and an affront to Michiganders demanding action,” he said. “We cannot wait for delays or ineffective half measures to protect our water sources from toxic PFAS chemicals.”