WASHINGTON – The U.S. government has left Americans vulnerable to exposure to highly toxic chemicals in our water, food, air and soil, a leading public health expert testified today.
“There is an urgent need for EPA and states to act,” Erik D. Olson, Senior Director for Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told a House subcommittee this morning, in testimony calling for protections from a group of chemicals known as PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
These “forever chemicals” are used to make cookware, clothing, firefighting foam and other materials, and are detectable in the blood of virtually every American. PFAS are highly mobile, spread quickly in the environment, and do not break down easily. They have been linked to cancer and other health problems and can be harmful at extremely low doses.
“EPA and federal authorities have failed to meaningfully regulate or control PFAS manufacture and use,” Olson told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.
Just two of these chemicals are present at unsafe levels in the drinking water of 6 million Americans, Olson noted. Even at low levels, PFAS have been linked to a range of serious illnesses, such as cancer of the kidneys and testicles, thyroid and liver disease, lower fertility in women, higher cholesterol and weakened immune systems.
Olson called for a number of actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and state governments, including:
- Regulating PFAS pollution;
- Issuing strict health-protective standards for drinking water and fixing the underlying drinking water law to make that possible;
- Halting approval of new PFAS and new uses of existing PFAS;
- Phasing out manufacture of PFAS and products using them;
- Requiring broader testing and disclosure of PFAS uses and releases to document the problem and give the public meaningful access to that information;
- Requiring polluters to pay and providing funding for cleanup of contaminated sites; and,
- Monitoring harm and compensating citizens who are exposed/at risk.
Olson also called upon states to “immediately step into the breach” to issue drinking water protections and address the use of PFAS in consumer goods, food packaging and firefighting foam.
The written testimony of Erik Olson, Senior Director for Health and Food with the Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at NRDC, is available here.
A map of over 600 PFAS contamination sites around the country can be found here (credit: EWG/Northeastern University).
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.