U.S. House panel set to hold hearing on PFAS contamination

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Equipment used to test for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) in drinking water at Trident Laboratories in Holland, Mich., pictured on Monday, June 18, 2018. Trident Labs added testing for perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, in March after toxic contamination was identified at a former tannery near Rockford.

Washington — A U.S. House panel will hold a hearing Thursday on water contaminated by a potentially harmful category of fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals.

Lawmakers on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hear from a panel of witnesses including Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team

“Every family deserves to know the truth about what is going on regarding PFAS. It has been in the news and there is too little information about the health risks and ways to address it in the environment,” said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, who chairs the Environment Subcommittee.  

“With all the questions about PFAS exposure impacts swirling around, it’s critical that we investigate the facts, the real risks, and what it takes to protect the public and clean up the contamination."

A Senate subcommittee is holding a similar hearing Sept. 26 on PFAS contaminants.

State environmental officials including Isaacs have called on the federal government to carry out additional research and regulations surrounding PFAS chemicals.

Contamination has affected communities across Michigan, including two in Kalamazoo County where authorities last month warned residents to stop drinking or cooking with water due to PFAS contamination. Michigan officials this past week informed residents they could start drinking the water there again.

“We need to learn what, exactly, happened here in Michigan so that we can prevent it from happening again. This bipartisan hearing will be a positive step in that direction," Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said in a statement. 

“The response to the PFAS problem in Parchment is a textbook example of how such situations should be handled."

PFAS chemicals have been used in manufacturing, firefighting foams, consumer and household products for decades.

The chemicals have been detected in Michigan lakes and drinking water in west Michigan’s Belmont area and around military installations including Wurtsmith Air Force Base and Camp Grayling.

State health officials have said continued exposure to the chemicals in drinking water could harm human health.

A draft report by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry this year found that exposure to some types of PFAS chemicals above the Environmental Protection Agency's minimal risk level might be associated with liver damage and increased risk of thyroid disease and decreased fertility, and lower birth weight, among other health problems.

Gov. Rick Snyder in July called on Attorney General Bill Schuette to take legal action against manufacturers who knowingly manufactured or marketed products containing harmful PFAS chemicals.

This week, Snyder applauded the House hearing and urged the federal government to "actively engage with all the states and help us address this issue head-on."

"The emerging contaminants known as PFAS are a national concern and need a national spotlight to be addressed appropriately," Snyder said in a statement.

Several Michigan lawmakers have co-sponsored a House bill that would require the EPA to publish a maximum containment level goal and promulgate drinking water regulations for PFAS.

Co-sponsors include Reps. Upton; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. 

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, has introduced two PFAS-related bills, including one that would create reporting requirements and deadlines for cleaning up PFAS contamination at federal facilities, including both current and decommissioned military bases. 

The other would designate $45 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to develop new technologies to detect PFAS and conduct nationwide sampling for PFAS chemicals to determine their concentration in bodies of water.