By Ketura Persellin, Environmental Working Group
This year’s defense spending bill – the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA – now being considered by Congress, is an unprecedented chance to regulate the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which have contaminated hundreds of public water systems nationwide. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include provisions to restrict PFAS discharges into water and end the military’s use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging.
PFAS chemicals have been used in consumer and industrial products for decades. They’re in nonstick pans, furniture and clothing treated with water- and stain-repellent finishes, fast-food wrappers and containers. It’s an overwhelming list.
An especially important provision of the NDAA would designate PFAS as “hazardous substances.” This would trigger a higher level of reporting requirements, kick-start the cleanup process and mandate that the polluting companies – not taxpayers – pay for the cleanup, instead of pointing fingers at each other and avoiding responsibility. PFAS regulation found its way into the NDAA because PFAS is commonly used in firefighting foam used by the military.
The list of PFAS-related health harms is equally long, including cancer, kidney disease, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol. PFAS exposure has been linked in some studies to pregnancy-induced hypertension, low birth weight, shortened breastfeeding duration and reduced fertility, and reduced effectiveness of tetanus and measles vaccines. Because of their developing bodies, kids are especially vulnerable to the harmful health effects linked to PFAS.
By the end of this month, House and Senate negotiators must decide whether to include these reforms in the bill, including provisions to:
- Quickly end the military’s use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging.
- Restrict PFAS discharges into drinking water supplies.
- Clean up the sites with the worst contamination.
- Ensure proper disposal of PFAS waste.
- Expand PFAS monitoring and reporting.
Negotiators from the House and Senate will soon meet to decide on what’s included in the final version of the NDAA. Then it will go to the White House for signing.
What can you do to make sure your voice is heard?
- Contact your members of Congress and urge them to support PFAS reform.
- Avoid exposing yourself and your family to PFAS. Consult EWG’s Skin Deep®cosmetics database and this tip sheet to see what types of products are made with PFAS.
- Find out more about PFAS in your drinking water and what you can do to filterit out.
Until Congress passes effective chemical safety laws to protect you from the newest versions of PFAS chemicals, stay away from nonstick pans, products made with Gore-Tex and Teflon, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and anything treated with stain or water repellent.