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Advocates say proposed cuts to EPA would hurt PFAS control efforts

A woman holds a bottle of water in a kitchen.
Matt Rourke
In this Aug. 1, 2018 photo, Lauren Woehr pours bottled water into her 16-month-old daughter Caroline's cup at their home in Horsham, Pa. In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

A key subcommittee in the U.S. House is proposing cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by one-third in the next fiscal year.

Advocates warn cuts to EPA and a Department of Defense cleanup program would hold back efforts to control PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.”

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group says the plan would take EPA’s budget to the lowest point in 30 years and derail the Biden Administration’s plans to tackle PFAS.

The pollutants are known as forever chemicals because of how long they last in the environment. PFAS have been linked to some cancers, thyroid disease, developmental delays in children, and other health conditions.

“What I think these cuts are going to do is really undermine all the future work they had planned,” said Betsy Southerland, a retired EPA director.

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John Reeder, vice president of federal affairs for EWG, said there’s been notable progress on the chemicals, including proposed drinking water standards. But he said there is a lot more to do to stop the flow of the pollutants into the air and water

“Budget cuts for EPA as well as DoD’s cleanup program have real consequences and would likely delay protection for millions of people exposed to PFAS, including many environmental justice communities,” Reeder said.

In 2021, about 400 drinking water systems tested for PFAS in Pennsylvania had the chemicals at levels above proposed federal limits.

The Biden Administration released a plan for PFAS in October 2021. EWG is tracking the agenda and says 25 of 65 planned actions, or about 40%, are overdue or only partly finished.

Outstanding actions include assessing PFAS threats from air emissions, requiring companies to test the safety of chemical compounds already in use, and controlling industrial discharges that threaten drinking water supplies and wildlife.

The House proposal still needs to win approval from the full House, the Senate, and the White House.

The next federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.