Courtesy of Justin O'Beirne

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced the PFAS Action Act to Congress Tuesday. If passed, the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a national standard limiting the amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances allowed in drinking water, set short deadlines for the EPA to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances, increase regulations on PFAS discharges and regulate the uses of PFAS in consumer products.

In a virtual webinar to publicly announce the legislation, Dingell and Upton were joined by Scott Faber, senior vice president of Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group, and award-winning actor Mark Ruffalo, who frequently advocates for environmental protection.

Upton said this bill was designed to make the EPA more responsive to concerns about PFAS contamination.

“What this legislation intends to do is to get the EPA on our side,” Upton said. “We need a partner that can battle this, to identify those hotspots, to work with companies across the nation to inform consumers and to take the meaningful steps of actually cleaning up where there are contaminated sites.”

Faber said he thinks this bill should be passed now because communities impacted by PFAS contamination need help as soon as possible and cannot rely on it from elected officials alone.

“A lot of you who are watching this are wondering why Congress needs to act since President Biden has pledged to make PFAS a priority for the thousands of communities with PFAS in their water,” Faber said. “Communities impacted by PFAS have heard pledges and promises before, and under current rules it could be almost four years before EPA even sets a drinking water standard (for PFAS), and years longer before utilities would have to meet it, and maybe even longer.” 

PFAS chemicals — which are resistant to grease, oil, water and heat — do not break down naturally in the environment, leading them to be known as “forever chemicals.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that PFAS can have dangerous health effects, such as an increased risk of high blood pressure and increased risk of kidney cancer. 

Ruffalo — who starred in the 2019 movie Dark Waters, which focused on DuPont Chemicals’ contamination and cover-up of PFAS in the drinking water in Parkersburg, W.Va. —  agreed it is important to set national standards regulating PFAS.

“The EPA has known about the risks posed by PFAS for decades and done nothing to regulate the discharges under federal laws,” Ruffalo said. “(The bill) just tells the EPA to use the powers that Congress gave the EPA more than 40 years ago. We know that PFAS is building up in our blood and organs, we know that PFAS has been linked to serious health problems, we know that PFAS has contaminated the drinking water of many more than 200 million Americans … If we don’t act, it’s real people who are paying the price in the form of higher health care costs and water bills.”

PFAS water contamination has long been an important issue in Michigan. In January 2020, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit against 17 water companies, asserting they knowingly allowed PFAS to infiltrate drinking water. Dingell said Michigan currently has 162 PFAS contamination sites.

“Michigan’s leading the way on identifying these sites, because we know how much water means to all of us,” Dingell said., “We’ve set drinking water standards (in Michigan) and we’re educating the public, but this is a national crisis.”

Contamination is particularly prominent near military bases, as the water sources of more than 600 military sites and their surrounding communities in 2020 may contain PFAS. Upton said the legislation will help military communities by forcing the U.S. Department of Defense to be more responsible with PFAS.

“The Department of Defense, basically, they’ve been the real guilty party here because they had the firefighting foam with PFAS,” Upton said. “So many of our bases have contaminated water sites … that are way over what anyone would anticipate in terms of a safe standard.”

The bill is nearly identical to the PFAS Action Act of 2019, also sponsored by Dingell and Upton, that was passed by the House but was not brought to a vote in the U.S. Senate. Dingell and Upton are hopeful the bipartisan bill will be passed by the Senate this year and be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

“I’m hopeful things will be different with the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Biden-Harris administration, who has committed to addressing the PFAS crisis,” Dingell said. “We’re obviously working closely with the Biden-Harris administration, and I want to say that they’re grateful to Fred for his working with them as well. So, we’re gonna knock out (some) important PFAS mitigation policies immediately.”

As the event ended, Ruffalo spoke about the importance of this legislation being passed in a bipartisan vote.

“In this divided climate we’re in, water’s a really good way for us to find common ground,” Ruffalo said. “All the years I’ve been working on water and it transcends politics, we really understand (that) as a nation and as people regardless of our political ideology. So it’s a really good place to be working and I strongly support the PFAS Action Act.”

Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at