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Stabenow, Peters and others introduce PFAS legislation in Senate

By ARPAN LOBO | Holland Sentinel, Mich. | Published: May 15, 2019

WASHINGTON -- With growing concerns over chemical contamination in Michigan and elsewhere, legislators in Washington recently introduced a bill that would make federal agencies accountable for high levels of PFAS at federal facilities across the country.

On Friday, May 9, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan and eight other senators introduced the PFAS Accountability Act, a bill designed to mandate federal accountability over PFAS exposed through federal facilities, such as military bases.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) can cause health concerns like thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancers as well as higher levels of cholesterol. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS can be found in stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and fire-fighting foams.

In Robinson Township, high levels of PFAS were detected at the local fire department, following a three-month-long investigation. Nearby Robinson Elementary School has switched to bottled water for drinking and cooking since the report was released.

A recent report conducted by the Environmental Working Group found Michigan has 192 PFAS contamination sites, the most in the country. State leaders have tried to address the issue, with the creation of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team in 2017. In February, MPART received new guidelines to address the threat PFAS pose to Michigan's drinking water and public health.

The PFAS Accountability Act has early bipartisan support. In addition to Democrats Stabenow and Peters, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is also among the co-sponsoring legislators.

Peters and Stabenow believe the bill will help Michigan families have a better idea of who is responsible for PFAS contamination.

"The last thing that Michigan families who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated water and soil need is finger pointing from our federal agencies," Stabenow said through a media statement. "Our legislation will bring quicker relief for families by holding the Department of Defense and all federal agencies more accountable."

Stabenow later gave a statement to the Sentinel urging federal regulators to tackle the issue.

"The federal government needs to respond with the same sense of urgency confronting families who can't drink their water or swim in their lakes," she said. "I have tackled this issue on multiple fronts in partnership with state and local governments by introducing legislation to establish stronger health and safety standards, providing resources through the annual federal budget, and pushing the EPA and Department of Defense to act with greater urgency."

Since 2017, Stabenow has pushed legislation that secured funding for PFAS and other contaminant clean up in the Senate. Many of the acts, like the PFAS Accountability Act, had bipartisan or bicameral support.

Peters has also worked across party lines to advocate for clean water in the U.S. He's asked the U.S. Air Force and the EPA to address the PFAS issue, in addition to introducing and co-sponsoring legislation that would change the way PFAS clean-up is funded, in going after companies who pollute water for remediation.

"We've seen repeatedly that the PFAS crisis is impacting communities across Michigan, and Michiganders cannot afford to wait any longer to address contamination," Peters told the Sentinel, through a media spokesperson. "We know PFAS exposure can have devastating health impacts, and I'm pleased to join Senator Stabenow and a bipartisan group of my colleagues to introduce legislation to force federal agencies to work with states on remediation efforts.

"I'll be working with my colleagues to help advance this legislation into law, and I'll continue working on efforts to expedite clean-up in communities across Michigan and ensure our drinking water is safe."

According to the EWG, 117 of the 610 PFAS contaminated sites are military sites. The PFAS Accountability Act sets guidelines for reporting and cleaning up contaminated federal facilities. Federal agencies would also have to cooperate with states in addressing any potential contamination.

The bill also allows the federal agencies to issue grants to states and local communities to ensure that problems related to PFAS are addressed.

PFAS legislation has been a priority issue for Michigan's elected officials, as Stabenow and Peters, as well as Michigan Representatives Fred Upton (R), Dan Kildee (D) and Debbie Dingell (D) have sponsored PFAS legislation in chambers of Congress this year.

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