Brown, senators pressing EPA to combat exposure to forever chemicals

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is among a group of 30 senators who recently sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking for an updated timeline for implementing its commitments to combat exposure to so-called forever chemicals.

Related: Dayton water Wright Patterson PFAS contamination

Levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, have been found in drinking water supplies in the city of Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the chemicals can be harmful to humans, although more research is needed to better understand the health effects.

“As you are aware, communities across the country are struggling to respond to the widespread issue of PFAS contamination,” said Brown, D-Ohio, in a news release. “The human health risks from this class of chemicals, which include birth defects, various forms of cancer and immune system dysfunction, are still being examined, and the uncertainty has caused great concern among our constituents.”

PFAS includes various types of substances known as PFOA, PFOS, GenX and others. It can be found in firefighting foam, water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, waxes, polishes and some food packaging, according to the EPA.

The senators’ letter calls on the EPA to determine whether it will write drinking water rules for the chemicals, as it said it would in 2019.

“Without federal standards in place, many states have stepped in to fill the void by establishing their own regulations,” the letter says.

In 2016, the city of Dayton shut down drinking water wells when PFAS was detected at levels much lower than the current federal advisory of 70 parts per trillion. It also has sued the chemical manufacturers.

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The letter also asks the EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances. The designation would allow federal funds to be used to clean up groundwater contamination due to PFAS spills, the letter says, and mandate responsible parties report spills of PFAS and be held liable for cleanup.

Sen. Ron Portman, R-Ohio, is not among the senators who signed the letter, but he supports limiting exposure to contaminants, his office said. Portman worked on the bipartisan Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act, which was recently signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, said Emmalee Kalmbach, the senator’s deputy communications director.

The legislation improves federal efforts to identify the health impacts of unregulated contaminants such as PFAS that are found in drinking water sources by helping the federal government more efficiently and effectively analyze the impacts of, and respond to, emerging contaminants. The bill also provides states with the resources they need to monitor, test and respond to potential risks posed by emerging contaminants, Kalmbach said.

“(Portman) believes that we must combat exposure to emerging contaminants such as PFAS substances so that drinking water remains safe for all Ohioans,” Kalmbach said.