WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee will hold a hearing to examine per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“We are gathered here today for an important discussion to better understand PFAS as hazardous substances and the impacts of regulating them under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Liability, and Cleanup Act, also known as the ‘Superfund law.’ But, first I want to thank our panel of witnesses for joining us today.

“I’d like to start off with a story of my own — a story about when I first encountered PFAS in the world. When I was a naval flight officer, I flew with the confidence that firefighting crews on the ground would have the backs of my aircrew in the event of an accident. It gave us peace of mind to know that the firefighting crews had an extremely effective foam — one that included PFAS — that could be used to extinguish fires quickly.

“Fast forward to 2006, when I was driving south on State Route 1 from Wilmington, Delaware toward the beaches of Sussex County. A plane that had just taken off from the Dover Air Force Base realized something was amiss too late and crashed less than a mile south of the approach runway. Because of that same firefighting foam, everyone was saved.

“But this isn’t just about firefighting foam. As we all know, thanks to modern chemistry, Americans have welcomed the use of PFAS in many other forms: from non-stick pans and waterproof jackets to stain-proof furniture fabric and, even, as part of heart-valve replacements.

“Since the 1940s, more than 9,000 PFAS chemicals have been manufactured and used around the world. And, chemists are still finding more uses for these chemicals — from enabling lighter-weight materials for our electric vehicle batteries to ushering in high efficiency methods for cooling the energy hungry servers that keep us connected to the internet. Frankly, PFAS chemicals have made life easier, but it has come at a significant cost. That is the cruel irony of these chemicals. The very substances that can save lives — and improve the quality of our lives — may also put many lives at risk.

“The major reason that these chemicals are so effective is that they simply do not break down in the environment, and that’s why they are known as ‘forever chemicals.’

“They also accumulate. And, one might ask, where do they accumulate? Well, they accumulate in plants, in animals, in our water, in our soil and — most regrettably — in our bodies, as well as in the bodies of our children and grandchildren. A number of these forever chemicals have been found to be toxic, causing liver damage, fertility problems and even cancer.

“As everyone on this Committee knows, I am privileged to represent Delaware, one of the smallest states in our Union. Yet every one of our three counties have been plagued by the presence of PFAS chemicals in our soil, our air and our water.

“Every one of my colleagues in the U.S. Senate is dealing with the lasting effects of PFAS in their communities, too. The lasting effect of PFAS contamination is having a major impact on not only our public health, but also our livelihoods. People in affected communities are worried about falling property values, and, in too many instances, farmers with contaminated lands and livestock are being driven out of business.

“I salute our utilities, who are bearing the brunt of this contamination and doing everything they can to remediate it while providing safe and reliable drinking water, wastewater and solid waste services. And as we all will recall, my colleagues and I fought to include more than $10 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support their response efforts. 

“Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency took a significant step to address the impacts of PFAS by proposing to designate two of these chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. We anticipate that this rule will be finalized later this calendar year.

“The Superfund law provides the government with the authority to hold polluters responsible for environmental contamination caused by dangerous substances. With this proposed designation, the EPA is doing good work to increase transparency around the prevalence of these chemicals while also protecting the environment and public health.

“Though this designation is an important step forward, we have also heard concerns about the potential unintended impacts this designation could have on entities like municipalities and water treatment plants. These facilities and entities do not use these chemicals at all but could be held responsible for downstream contamination simply because the contamination traveled through their facility. To date, the EPA has never enforced an action against a passive recipient of contamination under the Superfund law.

“However, these facilities and entities are concerned that this designation could potentially saddle them with unjustified lawsuits until the EPA identifies the real responsible parties. As you know, working though Superfund liability could take years under the current legislative structure of the Superfund law. The goal of today’s hearing is to better understand these concerns and to continue our efforts to confront this contamination where it starts.

“Cities and states around America are scrambling to protect citizens and restore contaminated lands and waters from PFAS. But, with a hazardous substance designation on the horizon, these entities and their utilities are understandably worried about legal costs for contamination that someone else may have caused.

“Ultimately, I believe that the federal government, states and local communities should all come together to address these toxic pollutants. Our cities and their citizens are desperate for a solution. But, we must keep in mind common sense as we work to identify who is responsible for cleaning up these chemicals.

“The bottom line is this: while PFAS chemicals can serve useful purposes in our daily lives, the other side of the coin is that PFAS chemicals are pervasive threats to our families’ health and could cost our economy billions of dollars in cleanup expenses every year. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it costs $50 to $1,000 to buy a pound of PFAS to make consumer products, but it costs $3 million to $18 million per pound to remove it from wastewater. 

“We need strategic national policies and investments to help us do several things: first, determine the spread of PFAS contamination; second, identify the health threats that these chemicals can pose; third, explore the best methods to rid our water and lands of them and lastly, collectively find a path forward to making the actual polluters pay while protecting innocent parties.”