Pa. congresswoman’s proposal would offer legal avenue for medical monitoring of PFAS exposure

“Essentially, it offers a right to testing, it offers victims a right to medical monitoring.”

  • Ximena Conde/WHYY

(Philadelphia) — In most of the United States, people who have been exposed to the toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS can’t sue for the cost of medical care unless they’re already sick.

There’s little research on the effect PFAS can have on humans, but some studies link the chemicals — found in such wide-ranging products as nonstick pans, water-resistant clothes, and firefighting foam — to adverse health effects, including cancer. Those side effects, however, might not appear until years after exposure to the substances, known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, whose district includes most of Montgomery County and parts of Berks County, and fellow Democrats U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress with the hope of giving people with significant PFAS exposure a legal avenue through which to have manufacturers pay for the additional medical care required to find any adverse health effects, should they come up.

“Which is vital to providing long overdue accountability for this public health crisis,” Dean said at a virtual press conference. “Essentially, it offers a right to testing, it offers victims a right to medical monitoring.”

study by the Environmental Working Group, which is supporting the legislation, found some PFAS act in ways similar to cancer-causing chemicals.

In Bucks and Montgomery counties, PFAS contaminated local water through firefighting foam used at two military bases. Recent testing found PFAS present in about a third of the commonwealth’s water systems, though they all tested below the health advisory level. Among other sites known to have significant PFAS water-contamination issues are military bases in New Jersey and Delaware. 

The bill aims to offer rights to people involved in the manufacturing of PFAS as well as those who were exposed to contamination for a year or more. If passed, the legislation also would force manufacturers to fund research on the health effects of PFAS.

Dean said she believes the cause could garner bipartisan support.


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