The prevalence of “forever chemicals” in public water is shocking. These chemicals, called per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), do not break down in nature and have been linked to serious health problems like cancer. They have been detected in the water of nearly 1,400 communities in 49 states across the country, according to EWG. The Environmental Protection Agency has known that PFAS chemicals are toxic since 1998 but has failed to take any meaningful action to clean up our water and protect us from further contamination.
The PFAS Action Act would, among other things, finally require the EPA to set drinking water standards and hold PFAS polluters accountable for cleaning up the worst contamination. It passed through the House with a 247 majority vote, including 24 Republicans, but not without last-minute underhanded amendment attempts and 159 “no” votes. Let’s expose the Congress members who refuse to protect our water —and push them to do better.
The Three Shady Toxic Water Amendments
- First, Texas Rep. Michael Burgess offered an amendment to remove the section of the bill that designates PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as the Superfund law. In effect, Rep. Burgess tried to help polluters avoid responsibility for cleaning up major PFAS contamination sites. The House rejected the amendment by a vote of 161-247.
- Next, Ohio Rep. Troy Balderson tried to prevent implementation of the bill until the EPA Administrator certifies completion of its own PFAS Action Plan. In other words, he wanted to let the EPA keep control over the PFAS clean up timeline. The EPA has already failed to meet deadlines repeatedly. One of the most important parts of the PFAS Action Act is a push to clean up contamination quickly and urgently. This amendment was also voted down by 170-239.
- The final ploy to stop meaningful measures against PFAS came from Illinois’ Rep. John Shimkus who tried to remove health protections for vulnerable populations at greatest risk from PFAS exposure. At the last minute, though, he decided to drop this amendment and it was never voted on.
We realized why later: at the very end of the debate, Rep. Anne Rodgers of Washington State tried to derail finalize passage one last time by requiring additional protection to the “unborn child” under the vulnerable population provision. This protection is unnecessary as the Safe Drinking Water Act already includes expectant mothers, and thus fetal health, under vulnerable population protections. This attempt also failed, along party lines.
Who Voted Against Clean Water?
There was a clear party divide among supporters of the PFAS Action Act of 2019.
Among the 159 “no-voters” were 157 Republicans, 1 Independent, and 1 Democrat. 17 Republicans and 7 Democrats did not vote.
223 Democrats voted in favor of the bill along with 24 Republicans.
Ben McAdams of Utah’s 4th district is the only Democrat who voted against the bill. McAdams represents a district that includes most of Salt Lake County.
Why would McAdams vote no? His district seems likely to benefit from stronger protections. According to EWG, the groundwater near the Salt Lake City International Airport had 139,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS and PFOA in 2018. For reference, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued Lifetime Health Advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) separately or combined. A CDC study that Trump tried to suppress found that this advisory level was much too high and recommended a level that was nearly 7 to 10 times lower.
Who Voted To Clean Up Toxic Water?
Every Democrat, barring McAdams, voted “yes” on the PFAS Action Act of 2019.
Though fewer Republicans voted “yes,” a powerful group from all over the country crossed party lines in order to protect our water. Those representatives are listed here:
- George Holding of North Carolina’s 2nd
- David Rouzer of North Carolina’s 7th
- Richard Hudson of North Carolina’s 8th
- Bill Huizenga of Michigan’s 2nd
- Fred Upton of Michigan’s 6th
- Lee Zeldin of New York’s 1st
- Pete King of New York’s 2nd
- Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st
- Tom Reed of New York’s 23rd
- John Katko of New York’s 24th
- Bill Posey of Florida’s 8th
- Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th
- Francis Rooney of Florida’s 19th
- Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey’s 2nd
- Chris Smith of New Jersey’s 4th
- Steve Stivers of Ohio’s 15th
- Michael Turner of Ohio’s 10th
- Will Hurd of Texas’s 23rd
- David McKinley of West Virginia’s 1st
- Don Young of Alaska
- Paul Cook of California’s 8th
- Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska’s 1st
- Mike Gallacher of Wisconsin’s 8th
- Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington’s 3rd
Now the PFAS Action Act of 2019 moves to the Senate for a vote. Senate GOP leadership has so far refused to commit to holding a vote on the bill and President Trump has threatened a veto. With pressure from voters, we can push the Senate to hold a vote and pass the PFAS Action Act of 2019. This is not over!