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Rep. Tlaib tackles environmental racism in PFAS cleanup bill


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Vulnerable and disadvantaged communities disproportionately exposed to pollution would be the first to receive federal funding to clean up drinking water contaminated by PFAS under a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, along with two other Democrats, co-sponsored an amendment to the bill, which would regulate PFAS, a hazardous family of human-made chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products, such as firefighting foam, tanneries, cell phones, cookware, food packaging, metal platers, Scotchgard and Teflon. The legislation, called the PFAS Action Bill, was sponsored by Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish nationwide drinking water standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, which are nearly impossible to biodegrade. They are popular in nonstick and waterproof consumer goods.

The legislation is particularly important in Michigan because it has more identified PFAS sites than any other state. But Republicans have already threatened to derail the bill.

Under the amendment, "disadvantaged communities" would receive priority for  the cleanup of PFAS contamination, which is linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders, fertility, low birthweight, high cholesterol, thyroid issues, and other serious health problems.

While introducing the amendment on the House floor, Tlaib cited Metro Times' most recent cover story, which focused on environmental racism in 48217, Michigan's most polluted ZIP code.

"If we’re not intentional about where we put our resources to address this crisis, we are not serious about universal clean air and water," Tlaib told House members Friday. "This amendment will ensure that we have equitable funding that goes to neighborhoods that have been far too ignored.”

Tlaib added that the measure would "safeguard the health and environmental justice of the neighborhoods that have historically been victims of structural racism and disinvestment."

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y., and Nanette Diaz Barragán, Calif., co-sponsored the amendment.  

The legislation faces an uncertain future, though, because the Republican-controlled Senate has already released a statement criticizing the act for pushing a “purely partisan, anti-science regulatory framework” that they insist could make it more difficult for the EPA to address PFAS.

President Donald Trump also has threatened to veto the bill.

At a pro-Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa City on Sunday, Tlaib said southwest Detroit has been neglected for too long.  

"If you really want to see what doing nothing truly looks like, come to my district," Tlaib said.

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