In the span of just four years, from 2019 to 2022, the chemical industry has funneled more than $110 million into lobbying efforts to stifle Congressional action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, according to a penetrating report by Food & Water Watch. These “forever chemicals,” notorious for their enduring presence in the environment and inside nearly every American, have sparked a health crisis that legislators have tried—and often failed—to address in the face of intense corporate pushback.
The report, aptly titled “PFAS and the Chemistry of Concealment,” lays bare a strategic campaign by major PFAS producers such as Dow and DuPont, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC)—the industry’s lobbying arm—to divert and delay meaningful legislation. Their arsenal included a cadre of lobbyists and a hefty war chest dedicated to combatting legislative efforts aimed at curtailing PFAS risks and holding manufacturers liable for cleanup.
In a legislative landscape where over 130 bills were introduced concerning PFAS mitigation, a mere fraction saw the light of day. Only four standalone bills and four National Defense Authorization Acts mentioning PFAS were enacted. Not a single one imposed the cleanup cost onto the industry.
The PFAS Action Act, which came under particular assault from industry lobbyists, sought to classify two primary PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program. Despite passing the House, the bill was stonewalled by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where two-thirds of members have received campaign contributions from PFAS manufacturers and over half from the ACC.
Amanda Starbuck, research director at Food & Water Watch, did not mince words: “Chemical corporations lied to the public for years about the alarming health impacts of PFAS. Now that the truth about the many harms of PFAS has been exposed, the industry is trying to dodge liability by wielding its vast lobbying arsenal.”
While the report paints a grim picture of legislative stasis, the recent surge in public awareness and media scrutiny signals a change in the winds. This increased visibility and the outrage it spurs could prove pivotal in tipping the scales toward stringent regulation and accountability for an industry long shielded by its own economic might.
With the staggering cost of PFAS cleanup looming and the health of countless individuals and communities at stake, the clarion call for federal intervention to halt PFAS production and enforce corporate responsibility has never been more urgent. As momentum builds, it is imperative to watch whether lawmakers will finally navigate the minefield of corporate influence to prioritize public health over the industry’s bottom line.