Democratic lawmakers Thursday drummed up support for boosting water protections to address a handful of toxic, man-made chemicals.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more broadly known as PFAS chemicals, have been widely used in everything from food packaging to nonstick coatings. The class of chemicals includes C8, or PFOA, the chemical produced and dumped in the Parkersburg area for decades by chemical giant DuPont.
The effect of the chemical and related events were recently brought to the silver screen in the blockbuster film, “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway.
The “Clean Drinking Water Act of 2020” has now been introduced in both the House of Delegates and Senate.
The bill would create an interagency taskforce to determine the extent of PFAS contamination across West Virginia. If passed, the bill would also require industrial sites that use or have used PFAS chemicals to report and monitor their use to state regulators. It would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to set drinking water standards for a handful of PFAS chemicals.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol, Evan Hansen, (D-Monongalia), sponsor of the House version, H.B. 4542, said it is time West Virginia takes action to address PFAS chemicals.
“They’re not effectively regulated at the state level or the federal level, and they’ve hurt people in West Virginia,” he said. “In an ideal world, the federal EPA would take the lead on this and come up with national standards, but unfortunately they’ve been dragging their feet and that’s forced state after state to matters into their own hands. So, that’s what we’re doing here today.”
Neither bill has been placed on a committee agenda yet, but supportive Democrats argued the legislation is largely aimed at collecting better science and not a heavy burden on industry.
Sen. William Ihlenfeld II (D - Ohio) is the lead sponsor of S.B. 679. He said that adopting strong science-based protections would boost business confidence across West Virginia.
“There’s a false narrative in the building that we can’t have a healthy environment and a strong economy,” he said. “We absolutely can have both and this type of legislation is not overly burdensome — it’s not a heavy lift for industry.”
That is a sentiment echoed by Charleston resident and former small business owner, Nancy Ward. Her shop, Cornucopia, closed in 2015, she said in part due to slumping sales following the 2014 water crisis.
“If you want to keep businesses here you have to keep the people here and you have to keep them healthy,” she said.
Hansen acknowledged that while many lawmakers support the sentiment of protecting water, for some, supporting the bill that places the spotlight on chemical users and producers will be an uphill battle.