Emerging Contaminants, Forever Chemicals, and More: Challenges to Water Quality, Public Health, and Communities

2167 Rayburn House Office Building and online via videoconferencing

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0 Wednesday, October 06, 2021 @ 11:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Official Transcript

  • Dr. Elizabeth Southerland, Former Director of Science and Technology, U.S. EPA Office of Water | Written Testimony
  • Chris Kennedy, Town Manager, Town of Pittsboro, North Carolina | Written Testimony
  • Dr. Elise Granek, Associate Professor, Environmental Science and Management Department, Portland State University | Written Testimony
  • Captain Charles Moore, Research Director, Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research | Written Testimony
  • Katie Huffling, MS, RN, CNM, FAAN, Executive Director, Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment | Written Testimony
  • James (Jim) Pletl, Ph.D., Director of Water Quality, Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Virginia Beach, VA; on Behalf of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies | Written Testimony
  • Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member David Rouzer (R-NC):

    Thank you, Chair Napolitano.  I appreciate you holding this hearing, and I would also like to thank our witnesses for being here today.  Today’s hearing will examine contaminants of emerging concern, including some plastics, pharmaceuticals, PFAS, and other substances that may pose risks to health and the environment.

    Like other states, my home state of North Carolina is familiar with these issues.  For many years, PFAS contaminants known as “GenX” were discharged into the Cape Fear River from industrial facilities upstream.  Since then, the state as well as local governments have spent millions of dollars and countless hours working to remedy the situation.  

    This challenge is why I’ve been supportive of legislative efforts to make PFAS a priority for EPA so that states and communities can get better support on addressing this matter.  These communities rightfully have questions about these chemicals and how they affect the drinking water and environment, which also leads to questions about their effect on personal health even when at very minute levels.  

    The scientific community is working hard to answer these questions, but unfortunately there is still much we don’t know.  More study, and research and development are needed to better understand the effects of these chemicals, how widespread they are, which particular PFAS substances are ones of concern, whether those that are of concern are still used in commerce or are now just legacy pollutants, and how they can be monitored and cleaned up.

    With this gap in knowledge, we need to ensure any regulatory actions or requirements are backed by science and done thoughtfully to protect communities and reduce risks.  A good strong manufacturing base that produces products American consumers want can coexist with efforts to improve the environment if done properly. 

    But we must not fly blindly and make emotion-based regulatory decisions rather than using informed science and an understanding of the risks that are involved.  For instance, water and wastewater treatment facilities are in a unique position.  They are not responsible for PFAS and other contaminants of emerging concern entering water sources, but they are responsible for water treatment and cleaning it up, nonetheless.  

    While research is ongoing, at this time there are few treatment methods for removing PFAS from wastewater and even fewer for disposal of PFAS.  In the meantime, our water and wastewater utilities face the prospect of significant liability based on how they deal with these substances even though they did not create them.  The options before them are expensive, which can become a great burden for many communities and their ratepayers.  As our government moves forward to address PFAS, it is essential we keep in mind the need for further information on PFAS and the economic impacts of clean-up on communities. 

    Looking forward, we should think about the possible effects of substances before they become common in our lives and the products we use, which then also become common in our environment.  This is equally true for other substances that might be considered as an emerging concern.

    We also need to better understand where these substances come from— whether that’s a manufacturing facility or from the personal products or medicines we use in our own homes that then are passed along into wastewater after being rinsed down the household drain.  There are many household products that will take your breath away if inhaled — yet they go right down the drain every day.  Additionally, shampoos, hair dyes, etc. all go right down the drain leaving remnants that most surely go into our drinking water.  Addressing these down-stream impacts beforehand can avoid a lot of health and environmental concerns and expense.

    I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses about these and other contaminants of emerging concern and how we can better prepare and educate our communities and hopefully achieve progress in this realm.

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