Chemical industry advocates have spent more than $110 million in recent years on lobbying efforts that included opposing laws designed to reduce the use of, and exposure to, a group of toxic chemicals known as PFAS, according to a new study.
Lobbying expenditures from 2019 to 2022 undermined toxic chemicals legislation that would impact industries that make and use per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to Food & Water Watch, which published the report on Tuesday. During that period, only four of more than 130 bills introduced by Congress to help clean up PFAS became law.
“There’s a whole disproportionate amount of money being spent by the opposing side to try to avoid any kind of meaningful action,” said Amanda Starbuck, research director of Food & Water Watch. “If we want to stop the production and the contamination from PFAS, even before we get into the cleanup part of it, we really need some comprehensive legislation. I think this report shows what’s standing in the way.”
PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” do not break down naturally and are found in about 83% of US waterways, according to a 2022 analysis. About 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to numerous health problems, including thyroid, kidney, and testicular cancer, as well as ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, and hypertension during pregnancy. Last March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed drinking water standards for six PFAS chemicals.
The companies 3M, DuPont, and others agreed to settlements over the summer that will provide communities with billions of dollars to test for PFAS and remove them from drinking water.
To investigate how much money is potentially being used to fight PFAS legislation, researchers dug into a database of lobbying disclosure forms made available by the US House of Representatives. The team focused on six top PFAS manufacturers, the companies 3M, Archroma, Chemours, Daikin, Honeywell, and Solvay, as well as Dow and DuPont, which historically made or used PFAS, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
The PFAS companies paid 28 lobbyists to fight a 2019 bill that would have designated two major types of PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program, the report found. The PFAS Action Act passed the House but was killed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where a majority of current committee members accepted campaign contributions from PFAS manufacturers or the ACC, the report found. The committee’s Democratic majority received about $70,000 from top chemical companies from 2019 to 2022, while the Republican minority received nearly $400,000, according to the report.
Some campaign contributions came at the time of key legislative decisions. In 2021, US Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who has supported strengthening PFAS regulations, cast the vote that killed a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would have held PFAS manufacturers liable for the costs of cleaning up certain PFAS. Tillis received $1,000 in contributions from DuPont’s political action committee that day and $3,000 from Honeywell’s five days later.
Since PFAS have been found in fracking fluids and plastic products, which are made from fossil fuels, the researchers also looked at top oil and gas companies, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell.
“We know there is tens of millions of dollars within these reports that mentioned PFAS coming from just the top five oil and gas companies,” said Starbuck. “We can assume that not all of that money went straight to PFAS – they’re lobbying on a whole host of different issues – but the fact that they’re all heavily involved in lobbying on PFAS is saying something.”
As PFAS legislation aimed at holding polluters accountable moves forward, it is possible that the oil and gas industry could try to block legislation as a way to avoid polluter pay liability, said Starbuck.