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Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals'

The Hill logo The Hill 6/14/2019 Rebecca Beitsch
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A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday filed an amendment that would force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a drinking water standard for so-called forever chemicals.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) proposed new EPA rules regarding the chemicals known as PFAS, which has been linked to cancer and other health impacts and has contaminated water in at least 43 states.

The chemicals are often referred to as "forever chemicals" because of the time it takes them to break down.

The EPA has said it will decide by the end of the year whether it will set drinking water standards for PFAS.

The amendment, filed as part of the annual defense policy bill, would put pressure on the agency to speed up that timeline, adopting a drinking water standard within two years for two specific types of PFAS.

The EPA said it would not comment on pending legislation.

The compromise measure from a bipartisan group of senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee provides an early glimpse at how Congress plans to address the issue this year.

The EPA currently recommends no more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS in drinking water. But many states, tired of waiting for standards from the federal government, have passed their own drinking water standards that are tougher than what the EPA currently recommends.

Attempting to force the EPA to set a standard would likely meet resistance from some Republicans.

At a recent House hearing on PFAS, several GOP lawmakers said they were wary of getting ahead of agency scientists and recommending a specific response.

But other Republicans argue the agency has been delaying action while the problem spreads.

"EPA has given us little reason for confidence that they will act with the urgency that impacted communities know is needed," Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), said at a May hearing.

Thursday's Senate amendment would also force the EPA to consider barring new uses of PFAS and require PFAS manufacturers to share data on their production.

The amendment does not, however, make Superfund cleanup money available for places where PFAS has contaminated drinking water.

Carper has been pushing to designate PFAS a hazardous substance under the Superfund law as a way to force responsible parties to clean up the chemical.

In some cases, that party would be the military itself, which has identified more than 400 military sites with suspected PFAS contamination.

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