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Consumer Reports urges Congress to protect the public from toxic forever chemicals

CR supports the PFAS Action Act to address widespread contamination that endangers public health 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports called on Congress to pass legislation reintroduced today by Representatives Debbie Dingell, Brian Fitzpatrick and Pat Ryan that aims to protect the public from the growing health threat posed by PFAS “forever chemicals.” PFAS are widely used by manufacturers to make products resistant to stains, grease, and water, and are so pervasive that they are detectable in the blood of 97 percent of all Americans.

“Harmful PFAS contamination is widespread throughout the country and poses a serious threat to our health and environment,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “These ‘forever chemicals’ are particularly dangerous because they are toxic at extremely low levels and don’t break down easily in the environment and our bodies. This bill will help protect the public by requiring strong standards to keep PFAS out of our air and water and cleanup of contaminated sites that pollute communities and endanger our health.”

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment for many years. PFAS are used in the manufacture of a variety of consumer products, including firefighting foam and protective equipment, food packaging, rugs, carpets, and aftermarket stain and water treatment. People can be exposed to PFAS through food, water, consumer products that contain the chemicals, and contaminated soil, dust, and air.

A 2021 CR investigation of tap water in the U.S. found that nearly every sample tested contained measurable levels of PFAS. More than one-third of all samples exceeded 10 parts per trillion (ppt) total PFAS, a safety threshold that CR scientists and other health experts think should be the maximum amount allowed in water. There are currently no enforceable limits set by the EPA for PFAS in drinking water. Last spring, the EPA proposed the first mandatory limits on six PFAS chemicals.

Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with immunotoxicity, cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and decreased sperm quality. PFAS exposure reduces the immune response to childhood vaccines and may increase the risk of infectious disease. In addition, PFAS exposure has been directly linked to several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

The PFAS Action Act designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program and requires the EPA to mandate the cleanup of sites contaminated with the two PFAS chemicals. Within five years, the EPA would be required to determine whether the remaining PFAS chemicals should be designated as hazardous substances requiring cleanup.

In addition, the bill requires the EPA to adopt a drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS and four other PFAS chemicals to ensure the public is protected, particularly pregnant women, infants, and children. The legislation also sets PFAS air emission limits, prohibits unsafe incineration of PFAS, and restricts the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org