Bills targeting toxic chemicals deserve bipartisan support


South Bend Tribune

At least 29 states have passed or are proposing regulations monitoring a family of toxic chemicals that are ubiquitous and have been linked to severe health issues.

Indiana could join that list, if the efforts of two South Bend legislators are successful.

The bills, authored by Reps. Ryan Dvorak and Maureen Bauer, address “forever chemicals,” a family of toxic chemicals found in everything from fabrics to food service containers. They don’t break down naturally and they’ve been found in drinking water in Indiana.

Dvorak’s bill would establish a maximum contaminant level for PFAS in state drinking water, a measure already adopted by at least six other states. Bauer’s bill would test PFAS levels in current and former military members. Use of the chemicals in the military’s firefighting foam has allowed the toxins to flow through the water and into the ground.

Experts say national regulation is needed to address the contamination. Some believe that change could come from President Joe Biden, who has promised to tackle PFAS pollution and became the first major presidential candidate to acknowledge the toxins during a campaign.

Linda Lee, an agronomy professor at Purdue University, said that action from the states could “trickle down” to the rest of the country — and the more that states take the lead on the issue, the more likely that widespread nationwide change will occur.

Dvorak said his bill takes the critical step of saying there should be a maximum contaminant level for PFAS, while leaving what the maximum level is to scientists.

Five military sites in Indiana have been confirmed to discharge the toxins through its firefighting foam, and Bauer said it’s important for the state to understand the impact such discharge could have had on Indiana service members.

Last year, a bill that would require reducing the use of the firefighting foam in training exercises passed with strong support from Democrats and Republicans. That seems a sign that the issue can garner bipartisan support — and can be applied to the military. The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturing companies and has helped enact similar legislation to reduce PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams, has advocated for letting the EPA lead the regulation effort.

The current bills are positive steps for a state whose pollution ranks among the worst in the country. The issue is a matter of public health and deserves bipartisan support.

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