House excludes unborn from ‘vulnerable populations’ at risk from chemicals

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- House Democrats rejected an amendment that would have added the unborn to a list of “potentially vulnerable populations” deserving of protection from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in a bill that was ultimately passed with bipartisan support. 

The bill, H.R. 535 PFAS Action Act of 2019, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.” 

PFAS are found in a variety of common items, including Teflon pans, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in foam used in fire-fighting equipment. Firefighting foam is often the source of groundwater contamination, which then spreads to plants and animals. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a motion on Friday that would send the bill back to committee to amend the language to include the unborn. In a speech on the House floor, McMorris Rodgers said it was a “simple, clear, and direct” motion, that “clarifies the protection of ‘vulnerable populations’ must include any unborn child.” 

In her speech, McMorris Rodgers noted that Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had both raised concerns about the effects of PFAS on pregnant mothers and child development. 

“By rejecting this amendment, the Majority would be denying the science of the development of a child in the womb,” she said. 

“This motion is consistent with policy the EPA itself has employed – considering the impact of chemical exposures to babies in the womb,” the representative added. “For example, in 2011 the EPA under President Obama decided to regulate certain chemicals in drinking water, based in part on the impacts to the in-utero person.”

The 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act also recognized the personhood of the unborn. That bill was passed with both Democrat and Republican support. 

McMorris Rodgers’ motion was rejected and the bill was not amended. Democrats voted against the motion by a vote of 219 to 4. 

PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in society, and every person has some level of PFAS in their bloodstream. Newborn babies are at particular risk, as they can absorb PFAS chemicals in utero through the umbilical cord, as well as through breast milk. 

The EPA says that exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, detrimental effects to the immune system, cancer, and thyroid issues. PFAS chemicals are also believed to increase cholesterol levels. 

The bill was passed on a vote of 247-159 on Friday, Jan. 10.

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