Lawmakers on Tuesday expressed frustration with major manufacturers behind chemicals that have contaminated drinking water across the country, demanding answers on how they plan to deal with toxic “forever chemicals.”
Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee grilled company representatives over what they say was decades of awareness of the dangers of their products and their role helping spread fluorochemicals known as PFAS.
“You have played a part in this national emergency. You have sickened our first responders and members of the military, and I don’t know how you sleep at night,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) told representatives for 3M, Dupont and Chemours.
The company representatives testified Tuesday as Congress weighs how to address the spread of PFAS, which have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and in human bodies.
The chemical’s variants are used in products such as nonstick pans, rain coats and firefighting foam. The chemicals are also linked with cancer and numerous other health problems.
Lawmakers have been working on a package of bills to address the substance, which has spread into water in at least 49 states, but there has been hesitance on both sides of the aisle about how broadly to regulate the substance.
Denise Rutherford, senior vice president of corporate affairs for 3M, stressed Tuesday that the company had taken voluntary measures to phase out of some forms of PFAS during the Clinton administration, even though “there is still no cause and effect relationship for any adverse human affect” of PFAS.
“This is ridiculous. We have a huge problem in this country,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “There’s plenty of science out there that demonstrates these are harmful chemicals and dangerous to human consumption or you wouldn’t have taken them off the market in the first place.”
The hearing further exposed the rift between Dupont and Chemours – the latter a spinoff of DuPont – over who should be financially liable for contamination.
Daryl Roberts, chief operations and engineering officer for DuPont, said the company would clean up its current sites, but argued the company should not be held responsible for contamination caused by entities under Chemours.
“They’re in a great financial position. There’s no reason they would need our help to clean up their sites,” Roberts said.
Chemours, which spun off from DuPont in 2015, has argued that its financial liabilities are much greater than what DuPont first predicted.
“The cleanup has to happen. This to me is a non-option. The question is who’s paying for it?” asked Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.). “If that company doesn’t exist through corporate gymnastics who does pay that bill?”
The companies did, however, show support for two proposals current being debated in Congress, including regulating two of the more than 5,000 types of PFAS and updating the Superfund law to allow federal funds to help clean up sites contaminated by PFAS.
“It should send a clear message to the president and any member of Congress who might still have some misplaced concerns about potential regulatory burdens associated with PFAS solutions, including declaring some PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has pushed to allow Superfund money to be used for PFAS cleanups. “Some of the companies that would be regulated under these policies have now publicly declared their support for them – that’s consequential.”