Summit to protect Michigan water

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, Tuesday Nov. 13, convened a subcommittee field summit in Grand Rapids, MI on contamination from Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). The summit focused on how exposure to these chemicals impacts Michigan communities and will inform potential federal actions to support local efforts to address PFAS contamination. Below is the text of his opening remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Protect our water. We have to protect our water. It is as simple as that.

“That’s why this September I convened the Senate’s first hearing on highly-fluorinated chemicals—or PFAS to save a few syllables. These chemicals are widely used in products like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant upholstery, and many firefighting foams. They are toxic and not well regulated.

“Every day since the hearing in Washington DC, I have heard from mothers concerned about the tap water in their children’s cups, from grandfathers afraid to serve fresh caught fish at the family dinner table, from home owners who see bone-white foam washing up on their docks and wonder if it’s safe to swim, from firefighters, exposed to fluorinated foam for decades, who have sleepless nights before every health checkup. From across Michigan and the nation, communities are asking us: help protect our water.

“I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and concern at the hearing in Washington.  Dozens of Michiganders, including many of you here in the auditorium today, sacrificed their time and money to be there, in person, to tell the Committee, the Senate, and the nation: we have to protect our water. I know that so many more mothers and grandfathers and firefighters wanted to be with us in Washington but couldn’t make the trip.

“That’s why we are here today.

“I am honored to be in Grand Rapids to convene this field summit to discuss the emerging challenges related to PFAS contamination throughout our state. I appreciate the witnesses that have made time to be a part of this critical effort. I know that we share the overarching goal of protecting our water.

“The hearing last month was an eye-opening experience for many of my colleagues in Washington to the pervasive threat of PFAS contamination. Michiganders are unfortunately very familiar with water contamination and are—for good reason—hyper aware of the terrible consequence that federal, state, and local inaction can have on the health and well-being of our communities.

“Holding this summit here in Grand Rapids is intentional. Kent County has unfortunately identified a number of sites contaminated with PFAS. Toxic groundwater plumes impact thousands of residents, maybe tens of thousands—and that’s part of the problem, we haven’t conducted enough testing to know for sure. The consequences of improper waste disposal and industrial inaction have come back to haunt us in ways we are only beginning to understand.

“As the greater Grand Rapids community tackles the threat of PFAS the good news is that this area is uniquely equipped with the expertise, engagement, and philanthropic energy to overcome the challenges ahead. And through your hard work, you have gained the attention of people around the country.

“I am grateful to be here at Grand Valley State University, truly an impressive academic community that calls this area home, to highlight the importance of partnerships and collaboration. Our goal here today is not to simply call attention to the threat PFAS poses but to begin to identify a safer, healthier, and cleaner way forward. We must focus on solutions and be frank about the challenges that exist to meaningful progress at all levels of government.

“I appreciate the genuine engagement of all the participants today, each of whom I will introduce at the beginning of their panels. The EPA was invited to participate but declined. The Region 5 Director Cathy Stepp submitted written testimony and it will be included in the official record.

“I want to make special mention of two witnesses here with us today. I had the opportunity to meet with Sandy Wynn-Stelt when she came to Washington in September, her courage and conviction moved me then, and I am humbled that she will share her story with us today.

“When I first began to hear from constituents concerned about PFAS contamination, one name came up over and over again: Bob Delaney. Bob’s decade-long work on PFAS, his tireless persistence in advancing our understanding of the threat, and his foresight and bravery in sounding the alarm, make him a legendary figure among the community of Michiganders working to protect our water.

“I also want to thank my counterpart with the Federal Spending Oversight Subcommittee, Senator Rand Paul, as well as Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for their support in convening this summit in light of the momentum we’ve been building since our last hearing. I look forward to continuing to work with them to find solutions.

“When the new Congress gavels in on January 3rd, 2019, I will continue to make sure that protecting our water is a top priority. We will hit the ground running, pursuing solutions to the PFAS crisis and identifying where federal action can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those impacted. This summit is one small step in that direction. We are in this together.”

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