Ohio lawmakers working on bill to make drinking water more safe

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives are bringing a bill forward to protect drinking water across the state from harmful chemicals that all to often are not tested for.​

They can cause cancer, reduce fertility in women, and even cause developmental problems in children. Lawmakers are concerned they are in our drinking water and want the Ohio EPA to set a maximum amount allowed to be there.​

The chemicals, called forever chemicals because of how long it takes for them to breakdown, are Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are man-made chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, and a host of other chemicals. ​

These PFAS can be found in all sorts of material products, even some carpet, but also in our water supply because they are easily picked up and moved by rain water.​

That rainwater can move these chemicals into waterways that eventually become our drinking water.​

The chemicals have also been found in surface water near places where PFAS have been used in the past, such as military bases that use substances with the chemicals in them. The latest federal defense spending bill even saw the military choose to end the use of substances with PFAS in them.​

This is also something that has been around for at least a couple of decades with families in southern Ohio fighting in court over PFAS causing health problems and coming to settlements with companies using them in the manufacturing process.​

Last year, Governor Mike DeWine asked the Ohio EPA to create a plan to deal with this problem and he gave them until the end of the year to come up with one, which they did. ​

The first part of the Ohio EPA’s plan is to test 1,500 public water systems across the state. This is set to begin in the next few weeks and is expected to take all of 2020 to complete. The Ohio EPA goes before the State Controlling Board on Monday to request authorization to use money it has been budgeted to pay for contractors to do the testing.​

Governor DeWine says the Ohio EPA needs to get the testing done first so that lawmakers have the data they need to develop plans and policies to clean up possible PFAS and to determine if there are areas that should be prioritized.​

The sponsors of a new piece of legislation say that’s going to take too long and they want the Ohio EPA to set a maximum now so that when the testing comes back the clean up process can begin immediately instead of waiting for policymakers to haggle over details.​

Normally, the Ohio EPA follows the lead of the Federal EPA in terms of standard setting. ​

Currently, the EPA in Washington D.C. is in the process of coming up with a maximum standard.​

On December 3, 2019 the agency submitted its recommendation to the White House Office of Management and Budget for its review of the proposal.​

Once the review is complete the EPA can then open the recommendation up to public comment. That hasn’t happened yet.​

What has happened, in the meantime, is the Office of Management and Budget has released a statement of opposition to H.R. 535. ​

The congressional legislation would do similar things to what the Ohio House Bill seeks to do. The Trump Administration says through the statement from the Office of Management and Budget:​

“H.R. 535 would require the Administration to bypass well-established processes, procedures, and legal requirements of the Nation’s most fundamental environmental laws, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Toxic Substances Control Act; the Clean Air Act; and the Solid Waste Disposal Act.  These laws establish valuable processes to ensure public participation and transparency and ensure that appropriate, scientifically sound actions are taken to protect the American people. Rather than allow EPA to regulate PFAS in accordance with the carefully devised processes set forth in these and other laws, the bill would simply require EPA to put certain regulatory measures in place.”​

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, state lawmakers say time is of the essence because every day that goes by without action more water is ingested that could contain dangerous levels of PFAS and the public wouldn’t know it.​

“If we waited around for the federal government to do many of the things that need to be done to protect the security of our residents, we may be waiting for a long time,” said State Representative Allison Russo (Upper Arlington-D).​

Russo also pushed back on the need to wait for data the testing in Ohio would provide.​

“We’ve been at this for almost two decades and I think we have enough evidence at this point. Again, we have been waiting for the federal government to set these standards and they have not been set, so we think that it’s time for State-level action,” said Russo.​

Ohio would not be the first state to move forward with setting standards for maximum amounts of PFAS that can be present in drinking water; California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont have all taken state-level action already.​

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