(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I have called this hearing to examine one of the most important federal public health safeguards in our country, the Safe Drinking Water Act. Everyone has a right to clean and safe drinking water, and it is essential to the health of children and families that drinking water be free from harmful chemicals and pollutants.
In order to ensure that enough is being done to protect our nation from emerging contaminants, I, along with Representatives Waxman and Markey, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the unregulated contaminant program. This report is being released today.
The Government Accountability Office investigation addresses the stunning fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not made a determination to regulate any new drinking water contaminants, with one very recent exception, since 1996 when the law was last amended. This failure has occurred despite mounting evidence of threats to public health from unregulated drinking water contaminants.
In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act and directed EPA to use the best available science to create drinking water safeguards that would protect the most vulnerable in society, including infants, children and pregnant women.
As the GAO report shows the development of new standards for unregulated drinking water contaminants, such as perchlorate, were derailed in a process that failed to use the best available science and was driven by factors other than the protection of public health.
Scientific information has shown that certain emerging contaminants in our drinking water, such as perchlorate and chromium-6, could be harmful to children and families across the nation.
Perchlorate, which is used in rocket fuel, fireworks, and road flares, poses a threat to human health when found in drinking water. Specifically, perchlorate impairs the function of the thyroid gland, which harms child development and can result in decreased learning capability.
EPA needs to have a process that vigorously addresses these contaminants to help ensure the safety of the nation’s drinking water.
GAO’s report lays out a transparent and accountable framework that can help to ensure that EPA uses the best available science when creating drinking water protections for our communities and families.
I am glad that EPA is here to testify about their implementation of the program and to hear GAO’s testimony on the Agency’s need to use science to ensure that the federal government provides strong public health protections against drinking water contaminants.