Americans count on the Environmental Protection Agency every time they turn on the tap. Protecting public health and ensuring the safety of our nation’s drinking water is one of the agency’s top priorities. That’s why EPA is helping to lead the nation’s efforts to address a group of chemicals called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances or PFAS.
Today, I will kick off the agency’s first-of-its-kind National Leadership Summit on PFAS at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Representatives from more than 35 states – including Michigan – more than 20 federal partners, several tribes, dozens of industry, non-governmental groups and other national organizations will share valuable recommendations for how EPA should deal with PFAS in communities and communicate the risks associated with PFAS. Our summit gives states, tribes and stakeholders a key voice in the EPA’s efforts. It also gives our federal partners an opportunity to share their expertise and coordinate actions.
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used around the globe since the 1940s because of their stain-resistant, waterproof and nonstick properties. They help us fight fires and save lives, manufacture electronics that are essential to our economy, and make products that we rely on every day. But PFAS compounds also remain in the environment, raising concerns about the potential health risks from a number of these compounds.
After discovering PFAS in lakes and drinking water, Michigan will spend $1.7 million to test water supplies across the state, including in 1,380 public water systems and 461 schools. Communities in New York, West Virginia, North Carolina and other states have also found these chemicals in their drinking water. Concerned citizens, local governments, and states have called on EPA to act — to help provide the public and elected officials with the tools they need to understand these chemicals and their risks and to address them effectively.
EPA is listening to the public’s concerns. We are providing the national leadership necessary to bring together stakeholders to improve our understanding of these chemicals. This week’s summit builds on EPA-issued health advisories for PFOA and PFOS – two specific PFAS chemicals – based on peer-reviewed science, ongoing scientific research and collaboration with our federal and state partners. EPA is also taking action to develop health toxicity values for GenX and PFBS, two additional PFAS chemicals. Together these actions, among others the agency has outlined on its website, will help put the right tools in the hands of our federal, state, local and tribal partners.
Through this summit and our ongoing engagement, EPA is forging long-lasting partnerships that will ensure that we make immediate progress on this important issue. Beginning next month, EPA will travel to states to meet directly with communities that have been impacted by PFAS, including locations in Michigan, New Hampshire and Colorado. After these visits, we will take the information we have gleaned from both the summit and our community visits to draft a National PFAS Management Plan. This plan will serve as a clear road map for EPA and our partners to work together to take steps that will benefit our communities, our environment and our nation’s public health.
These actions demonstrate my vision for EPA and our commitment to protect public health and ensure all Americans have clean and safe drinking water. EPA is actively engaged with states and communities across the nation so that, from the federal to the local level, we can quickly respond to and address the environmental concerns of the American people. This is cooperative federalism in action. This is good and responsive government.
This op-ed appeared in the Detroit Free Press on May 22, 2018.