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Notre Dame expert fighting PFAS bill moving in statehouse

Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in Michigan where the "forever" chemicals have been found.
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio
Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in Michigan where the "forever" chemicals have been found.

A University of Notre Dame expert on PFAS, the toxic compound increasingly linked to cancer and other diseases, is trying to stop an Indiana bill he says would be dangerous for Hoosiers.

Graham Peaslee, a physics and astronomy professor, is a leading authority on PFAS, often called “forever chemicals” that are in all sorts of everyday products because of their ability to resist water, stains, grease and heat.

But they take thousands of years to break down and are estimated to be in the blood of 97% of Americans.

Peaslee drove to the Indiana Statehouse three weeks ago to testify in committee against a bill that would change the definition of PFAS, an effort to let the medical device and pharmaceutical industries continue using it because they say there are no alternatives.

"It's the Hoosier Economic Council and the American Chemical Council that are there petitioning, saying we'll pre-emptively redefine PFAS away from its scientific definition to something else," Peaslee says. "It's like taking all the red stop signs that are now going to be termed go signs, and anything that's green will be termed for stop."

The House passed the bill despite Peaslee’s concerns, which are widely shared in his field, and the bill now sits in a Senate committee.

Peaslee drove back down Tuesday morning to try and convince some senators one-on-one to oppose the bill. And he plans to go down again Monday when the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee is expected to vote on whether to send the bill to the full Senate.

Peaslee says South Bend Democratic Rep. Maureen Bauer alerted him to the bill and asked to testify. A House committee voted down her amendment that would have kept the state’s existing definition of PFAS intact while exempting medical devices and pharmaceutical products.

In that House committee hearing, Bauer said history will place Republicans on the wrong side of this issue.

"A vote for this means we will have to look a parent in the eye," Bauer said, "and say, I fought to keep those toxic PFAS chemicals in your baby's bedding, clothing and bibs, baby bottles and toys, the carpeting and playmats that the child crawls on, despite PFAS being linked to developmental delays in children."

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).