A bill that passed the US House of Representatives on Wednesday aims to track dangerous chemicals impacting water quality.
The PFAS Action Act passed 241-183 and US Rep. Cindy Axne was the only Iowan to vote in favor. The Democrat, who represents Iowa’s Third Congressional District, was joined by 23 Republican colleagues who voted with the Democrats on the bill.
The PFAS Action Act establishes a drinking water standard for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals and labels them hazardous so the EPA can start regulating the chemicals, clean up contamination across the country and support local efforts to do the same.
That includes $2.5 billion for infrastructure grants to local utilities so they can protect water systems without putting the burden on communities.
The grant money was also included in the House-passed 2019 bill. Axne then advocated for an increased amount of money going to communities from the grant program.
“It’s critical that we don’t put the financial burden of these cleanups on our local communities,” Axne said in a press release. “Which is why I’ve fought to include funding that will aid in keeping Iowans’ drinking water clean of these invisible threats.”
Exposure to man-made PFAS chemicals through food or water is consistently linked to higher cholesterol. It’s also been found to affect fetal development, the immune system, the liver, thyroid hormone disruption and to cause cancer.
The chemicals don’t break down and can accumulate over time, which is why they’re often called “forever chemicals.”
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are currently no federal or state requirements to monitor for these chemicals in Iowa’s drinking water. But PFAS chemicals are of public interest for the DNR, along with cyanotoxins (which are responsible for algae blooms) and manganese.
“PFAS chemicals represent a clear and urgent public health threat to Iowa, especially to the young children and expectant mothers who could face lifelong effects if exposed to these harmful pollutants through our drinking water,” Axne said. “This legislation would stop the production of these dangerous chemicals, crack down on dumping in our water systems, and support cleanup efforts.”
Iowa’s Republican US Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks voted against the bill.
However, on Monday, two days before she voted “no,” Miller-Meeks wrote an op-ed for The Oskaloosa Herald about a different, unrelated water bill, where she called clean water a priority.
“In a time of deep partisanship, clean water should be an obvious policy area where lawmakers can collaborate,” she wrote. “It is crucial to the lifeblood of our country and ensuring its accessibility is critical to protecting American families.”
In Iowa, scientists have found PFAS chemicals in private wells near the Cedar Rapids airport. There have also been two confirmed military sites with discharges, at the Sioux City Gateway airport and the Des Moines International Airport. There’s also a confirmed site near Davenport, at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, which is just over the border.
Iowa has five more suspected discharges at military sites.
by Nikoel Hytrek