A trio of Democratic lawmakers — including one from Michigan — last week introduced new legislation in an effort to seek what they called justice for the victims of PFAS contamination.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and both Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania and Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, sponsored the PFAS Accountability Act. The bill would create a federal cause of action for victims to bring claims against manufacturers and polluters, and allow courts to award those victims access to medical monitoring and studies at the polluters’ expense.
That type of care is often financially out of reach for those who suffered PFAS poisoning, Gillibrand said.
“Many families I’ve spoken to tell me their insurance won’t pay for it,” the senator said, arguing the approval of this new bill would provide improved access to that medical treatment for victims.
“It’s the right thing for us to do and it cannot come soon enough,” Gillibrand said.
Kildee, whose congressional district includes the old Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda where extensive PFAS contamination has been discovered, said it’s long past time when polluters should be held accountable and all PFAS pollution victims should be able to take polluters to court and get the health care “they deserve.”
“We know it’s an imminent, substantial danger and we have to start acting like that,” Kildee said.
Tony Spaniola, a Michigan-based lawyer and advocate for PFAS cleanup, spoke during a Thursday press conference about the recently introduced legislation. He also sits on the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team’s Citizen’s Advisory Workgroup.
Spaniola said he’s eager to see the legal barriers that stand in the way of recourse for PFAS pollution victims torn down, and he’s ready to help get it passed in Congress.
“People in my community are suffering,” he said.
The lawmakers and proponents of the new bill even enlisted the help of well-known actor, producer and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo to stump for the cause.
Ruffalo produced and acted in the film “Dark Waters,” in which he portrayed West Virginia lawyer Rob Bilott who drew attention to PFAS contamination as an environmental pollutant and human health hazard through a lawsuit against chemical-producer DuPont.
The celebrity environmental activist said this proposed bill may help encourage those companies still discharging PFAS into the environment to think twice before they continue to treat the public like “test subjects” in a “massive laboratory experiment without our consent.”
Ruffalo argued this proposed bill would help reverse decades of lawmaking that allowed polluters to avoid accountability for the damage they’ve caused.
“They are safe from us and that’s about to change,” he said.
Bilott himself also endorsed the proposed legislation during Thursday’s press conference. He said it was because of court-ordered medical monitoring that the victims of PFAS poisoning in Parkersburg, West Virginia, got the justice they deserved; all such PFAS victims should have the same recourse, he said.
Bilott successfully represented a farmer who sued DuPont after his cows were falling ill and dying from PFAS exposure.
Spokespeople for Michigan’s U.S. senators, Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, confirmed their teams are reviewing the proposed legislation. Officials for Congressman Jack Bergman, R-1st Congressional District, did not respond to requests for comment about the bill.
There are nearly 5,000 varieties of PFAS, which DuPont created in 1938 and first put into use for nonstick cookware. Industries use them in countless consumer items — food packaging, carpets and couches, dental floss and outdoor gear — to repeal grease, water and stains.
The chemicals also are found in firefighting foam, which military officials call irreplaceable in suppressing jet-fuel fires. Especially around military bases and PFAS facilities, decades of use have built up levels in water, soil and some treated sewage sludge used to fertilize non-organic food crops and feed for livestock.