BOSTON -- President Donald Trump is vowing to veto a bill to remove contamination from cancer-linked "forever chemicals" in groundwater, drawing criticism from environmentalists and members of the state's congressional delegation.
The proposal, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, would limit the production of new PFAS chemicals, require the cleanup of contaminated sites and set air emission standards. It also seeks to limit human exposure to PFAS by establishing drinking water standards and giving communities federal funding to fix impacted water systems.
But Trump is pledging to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, saying in a statement it would "create considerable litigation risk, set problematic and unreasonable rule-making timelines and precedents, and impose substantial, unwarranted costs on federal, state and local agencies and other key stakeholders in the public and private sectors."
The compounds known as per- and polyfluroalkyl substances, once used in firefighting foam and nonstick pans, have been dubbed "forever chemicals" because they accumulate in the human body and can take decades to degrade. Studies have found potential links between high levels of PFAS and a range of illnesses such as kidney cancer, high cholesterol and problems in pregnancies.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, one of the primary sponsors of the bill in Congress, blasted the statement and called it another example of the Trump administration's rejection of scientific evidence.
"Nobody should be poisoned by a glass of water, but the Trump administration seems to be fine with that," he said. "They're ignoring the health and lives of American citizens."
Another backer of the measure, Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, said proponents are still hoping to convince the Trump administration to support the legislation.
The chemicals have been found in drinking water tests in several communities in her district, including Ayer and Devens, where the U.S. Army is cleaning up contaminated water in wells near Fort Devens. The towns are among several with elevated levels of PFAS because of the use of fluorinated firefighting foam by the military.
"We can't ignore this," Trahan said in a statement. "Every American deserves access to clean, safe drinking water."
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to roll out plans to regulate PFAS by the end of 2019, including a new drinking water standard, but missed its own self-imposed deadline.
The Trump administration's statement on stressed that the EPA, not Congress, should take the reins in developing a drinking water standard.
"The regulatory process works best when EPA and other agencies are free to devise regulations based on the best available science and consideration of all the relevant facts," it read.
Amid federal inaction, Massachusetts and other states are taking steps to set limits on the level of contaminants in drinking water that would be more stringent than the federal standards.
Gov. Charlie Baker has filed proposed regulations that would require public water systems to test for PFAS and remove the contamination if the concentrations of six chemicals test above 20 parts per trillion. The standard is also more aggressive than the 70 parts per trillion recommended by the EPA.
Under the rules, which go into effect next year, polluters must clean up contaminated soil and groundwater if PFAS levels are shown to be above the new standards.
The rules would cover more compounds than those implemented in other states, and the Baker administration will spend $24 million to help cities and towns test for PFAS chemicals.
New Hampshire has set even more aggressive limits on four PFAS chemicals, ranging from 12 to 15 parts per trillion, which went into effect in October. Its new standards have drawn a legal challenge.
Last month, a judge granted a temporary injunction requested by 3M and other chemical companies opposed to the New Hampshire standards.
The federal legislation was also supported by New Hampshire Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann Kuster, both Democrats, who added amendments to the bill that will require the EPA to adopt new safeguards and provide funding for communities to remove PFAS contamination.
On Tuesday, Pappas and 70 other lawmakers -- including Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and author of the PFAS legislation -- in signing onto a resolution blasting the EPA for rolling back environmental regulations aimed at protecting drinking water supplies. The resolution "encourages" the federal agency to "strengthen, not attack" the nearly 50-year-old Clean Water Act.
Environmentalists said states are filling the regulatory void left by the Trump administration's efforts to rollback environmental regulations.
"Communities that are dealing with contaminated water are pushing back and saying we need tougher standards," said Heather Govern, director of the clean air and water program for the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. "If the Trump administration won't take the necessary steps to protect the public from PFAS, the states need to act."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.