Boyle, Fitzpatrick criticize EPA head Scott Pruitt on chemicals, call for resignation
At a press conference Monday morning, the congressmen called for more government action on PFAS chemicals, and Fitzpatrick joined a small contingent of Republican lawmakers in calling for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to resign.
Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick and Brendan Boyle ramped up their recent criticism of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt at a Monday morning press conference in Horsham.
In addition to calling on the EPA to regulate toxic compounds that have contaminated the area’s groundwater, Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, also said he believed Pruitt should resign as administrator of the agency. Fitzpatrick is one of only a handful of Republican representatives nationwide to do so thus far.
“Yes, I do,” said Fitzpatrick, when asked if Pruitt should resign. He added that he’d normally wait for a formal investigation into conduct, but that there was “way too much smoke at this point.”
“This (the water contamination) is exhibit A of this,” Fitzpatrick said. “Brendan and I are trying to accomplish a goal here: We need transparency in our government, and if we don’t get that, that’s unacceptable.”
The congressmen organized the press conference, just outside the entrance of the Horsham Air Guard Station, to call for the EPA to formally regulate perfluorinated compounds. The chemicals are ingredients in firefighting foams that the military has used for decades at bases across the world. Contamination from a trio of local military bases polluted the drinking water of approximately 70,000 residents before local water suppliers filtered the chemicals out over the past few years.
“We call for the full force of the federal government to respond to this wrong, to remediate the contamination, compensate and make communities whole, study the issue with urgency, and share the latest information with the public,” said Boyle, D-13, of Philadelphia, whose current district includes parts of Montgomery County.
Both Boyle and Fitzpatrick continued their recent criticism of the EPA for its alleged role in suppressing a draft health study on perfluorinated chemicals performed by a sub-agency of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The draft study, released last week, put forth recommended limits for some perfluorinated chemicals at about one-seventh the amount currently used by the EPA as the safe recommended limit.
In an emailed statement, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said the study was not under the purview of his agency and highlighted recent meetings held by the EPA on the chemicals.
“This was not an EPA study and thus not our report to release,” Wilcox said. “From our historic national (perfluorinated chemicals) summit with representatives from over 40 states, first-ever community engagement listening session in New Hampshire today, to our four-step action plan, Administrator Pruitt is taking decisive action to eradicate PFAS from our drinking water.”
The recently released study also undercuts the military, which is using the EPA’s 70 parts per trillion (ppt) recommended safety limit as its action level for filtering contaminated water or reimbursing water supplies for costs associated to contamination. Locally, the Warminster, Horsham and Warrington water supplies all are paying millions of dollars to provide water to customers with no trace of the chemicals. Those costs, in varying amounts in the three water supplies, are being passed onto customers.
More than 200 private wells also have been found to be contaminated. The military provides bottled water for residences served by those wells until they can be connected to a public water supply. But several hundred additional private wells also had the chemicals detected below 70 ppt, and the families that rely on them are not receiving any compensation or alternative water.
Both Boyle and Fitzpatrick said they believe the military should now at least adopt the lower limits recommended in the new study, or even pay the entire bill for the water systems and residents.
“Ideally, that should be it,” Fitzpatrick said of a zero tolerance, non-detect policy. “Any time you’re dealing with chemicals that could be carcinogens and have significant long-term health consequences, I don’t think we should be talking about savings. It’s our duty to make sure everybody in this region is protected. They didn’t cause this problem, the government did.”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, echoed those sentiments. Stephens grew up in Horsham and his wife and children also drank contaminated water before it was discovered.
“I’ve been drinking this water for 46 years. And I can tell you, along with my constituents, we want to know, what are the potential health effects that we face?” Stephens asked.
All three officials also called on the EPA to officially add the chemicals to a list of regulated substances in drinking water, an action the agency hasn’t taken for any chemical since 2000. The EPA has said it is considering adding the chemicals to the list, but that a decision might not be made until 2021. Without that step, towns and states are limited in what they can do to force a polluter to clean up contamination.
“A formal drinking water regulation (would) make sure this never happens again anywhere in the United States,” Boyle said, adding that he has introduced legislation that would formally regulate the chemicals. “We’re advancing the ball, but we’re here to say the defense department and the EPA must do more, and they should have done it by now.”