WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted Wednesday to legally limit two "forever chemicals" polluting drinking water across the country, directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set strict levels for substances known collectively as PFAS.
The bill also requires the EPA to study whether any other of the 600 PFAS now in commercial use should be restricted. 3M was a major producer of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, but stopped making them in 2000 at the urging of the EPA. In 2018, the Minnesota-based company also paid an $850 million settlement to the state for PFAS pollution in the eastern Twin Cities metro caused by its production plant in Cottage Grove.
3M continues to make and use other kinds of PFAS. It denies that any PFAS harm people at the levels they exist in the environment.
The company opposes the bill, saying in a statement Wednesday that it "would congressionally designate PFAS as hazardous substances and circumvent the federal rule-making processes" in a nonscientific way.
The chemicals are used in hundreds of products to provide waterproofing and stain and heat resistance.
Products include cookware, clothing, carpeting, furniture, firefighting foam and food packaging. A new Minnesota law bans PFAS in food packing by 2024.
Some PFAS have been linked to health problems, including cancers, kidney and liver problems, immune system responses and reproductive complications.
The man-made "forever chemicals" do not break down naturally and build up in people and animals.
They also circulate constantly through water, soil and air so they are continually reintroduced into people and animals. Researchers say PFAS are detectable in 98% of Americans. They pollute thousands of municipal water systems and hundreds of military bases from coast to coast.
The bill passed 241-183 with 218 Democrats and 23 Republicans voting for the measure and 183 Republicans voting against, including Minnesota's four House Republicans. The state's four House Democrats voted for it.
"These 'forever chemicals' threaten the health and well-being of countless Minnesotans — and folks living all across the country," said Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn. "It's long past time that Congress took action to address this issue and protect the American people."
Wednesday's vote was the second time the measure has passed the House. After its passage in 2020, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the floor of that chamber.
The fate of the bill this year in an evenly divided Senate remains uncertain because of a rule that requires 60 votes to end debate on most legislation.
Besides setting deadlines for determining limits and requiring reporting of PFAS discharges into water and soil, the bill provides hundreds of millions of dollars to help communities filter PFAS out of drinking water.
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432