WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand wants to help clean up PFAS, a series of industrial chemicals used in a variety of applications that can cause significant illnesses.
The chemicals, officially called per- and polyflouroalkyl substances, are commonly found around airports, military bases and industrial manufacturing centers, and when ingested through the water supply, can cause kidney and testicular cancer, preeclampsia, thyroid disease, developmental defects in fetuses, liver damage and immune system impairments.
“When these forever chemicals are introduced to the water supply from industrial plants, they make their way into our bodies where they can stay for long periods of time causing serious health problems,” Sen. Gillibrand said during a press conference Wednesday. “Thousands of communities across the country have confirmed the presence of PFAS in their drinking water, and most people in America actually have PFAS in their blood.”
Sen. Gillibrand called for the passage of her Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, which would create standards and regulations for PFAS chemicals in nine manufacturing industries — organic chemicals; plastic and synthetic fibers; pulp, paper and paperboard; textile mills; electroplating; metal finishing; leather tanning and finishing; paint formulation; electrical and electrical components and plastic molding and forming.
The bill would include PFAS under the Clean Water Act, empowering the Environmental Protection Agency to create strict standards for their use and disposal.
Within two years, the EPA would have to develop water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act for all measurable PFAS, and within four years the agency would have to develop limitations and guidelines to limit the disposal of such chemicals into waterways.
“As many as 30,000 manufacturers, across a variety of industries, could be discharging PFAS and making this problem worse every day if they aren’t regulated,” Sen. Gillibrand said.
Sen. Gillibrand lauded the Biden administration for taking the first steps to address the issue, with a draft plan from the EPA that would regulate discharge of the chemicals, but she said it has some problems.
“As written, the plan fails to set deadlines for the new standards, and includes regulations for two industry categories, instead of the nine in my bill,” she said.
New York communities have been hit hard by PFAS contamination. Johnson City, outside Binghamton in Broome County, and Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County, have both found measurable levels of PFAS in their water tables.
Fort Drum has also found high levels of PFAS in its water table, although post officials have said the levels are much lower than proposed safety thresholds.
Sen. Gillibrand said it’s integral to the health of communities that her bill be passed. She said the House has passed a similar bill, and it’s time for the Senate to take up the bill, too.
“Any standards set by the EPA that are less ambitious than those outlined in the bill I’ve introduced would not only be disappointing, but harmful to these communities and all those families who have been suffering for decades,” she said.