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1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Rep. Dingell to give keynote presentation at PFAS Conference in Ann Arbor

Debbie Dingell
Wikipedia Media Commons


Congresswoman Debbie Dingell represents Michigan’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, where she leads on critical issues including affordable and accessible health care, clean energy and water, domestic manufacturing and supply chain resilience, and protecting our wildlife and natural resources. Growing up in beautiful Michigan, Dingell, who chairs the Great Lakes Task Force, has always been an advocate for the outdoors and commits her work in Congress to protecting the environment for generations. Dingell is focused on bringing people together – in Congress and in her communities – to support Michigan’s families and the economy. This is most evident in her work to strengthen the American auto industry, maintaining America’s competitiveness and ensuring good-paying American jobs. In 2021, she worked together with the White House, the auto industry, the auto workers, and environmentalists to announce the Biden Administration’s goal of having 50% of new vehicles sold in 2030 be zero-emissions vehicles. Dingell also plays a major role in leading the fight against PFAS contamination, spearheading the PFAS Action Act with Republican colleague Rep. Fred Upton. Her collaborative workstyle also lends itself to bicameral work, most importantly on long-term care, as she authored the Better Care Better Jobs Act with Senator Bob Casey to strengthen and expand access to the long-term care system while also supporting the direct care workforce. As a fierce advocate for reform to our nation’s broken health care system, she is also the co-author of Medicare For All to finally guarantee care for all Americans.

Back home in Michigan, Dingell is known for working closely with state and local officials and community leaders to support hardworking families and address critical issues across Michigan’s 6th District. In 2021, her Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act, a bill she wrote after the Abbas family of Northville was killed by a drunk driver and which would require drunk driving prevention technology to be installed in new cars, was enacted into law. Dingell also worked quickly to secure federal flood relief funding and support to her communities amidst the 2021 summer floods that devastated thousands of Southeast Michigan families and businesses. Additionally, Dingell continued her husband John’s work to open the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and create a special outdoor space for Michiganders, while also protecting natural resources. As for the veteran community, Dingell meets with VFW posts and visits VA hospitals in the district and even improved the Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) rating in the Ann Arbor VA hospital.

Before being elected to Congress, Dingell – a self-proclaimed car girl – worked in the auto industry for over three decades, where she was President of the General Motors (GM) Foundation and a senior executive responsible for public affairs. She was also Chairman of the Wayne State University (WSU) Board of Governors and to this day continues to fight for affordable and accessible education in Congress. She chaired the Michigan Infant Mortality Task Force, the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, the Baby Your Baby public education campaign that reduced infant mortality rates in Michigan, and has served on the board of Michigan’s Children, a statewide independent voice advocating for public policies in the best interest of children of all ages.

An active civic and community leader, Dingell is a recognized national advocate for women and children. She successfully fought to have women included in federally funded health research and advocated for greater awareness of women’s health issues overall, including breast cancer and heart health. She is a founder and former chair of the National Women’s Health Resource Center and the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Debbie is a respected voice in Michigan and has been named multiple times on Crain’s Detroit Business’ 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan list. You’ll always find her out and about in Michigan’s 6th District, likely perusing a farmers market or visiting a union hall – don’t hesitate to come talk to her and tell her what’s on your mind.

Debbie currently resides in Ann Arbor. She holds both a B.S.F.S. in Foreign Services and an M.S. in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University.


Lisa Wozniak
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak

Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's degrees in social work and Education.

Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'


Michigan League of Conservation Voters

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell

2024 National PFAS Conference

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

PFAS Explained


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and beginning next Monday, June 10th, the three-day national conference on PFAs gets underway in Ann Arbor. The national conference has been held every other year since 2017. And this time around, Ann Arbor serves as host city, with the event being held at the Michigan League. I'm David Fair, and welcome to the June edition of WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. My co-host for this monthly conversation series is Lisa Wozniak. She is the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And this is a significant event for Ann Arbor.

Lisa Wozniak: It is indeed, Dave! As it says on the conference website, this event brings together some of the nation's leading scientists, government agency professionals, community-based organization leaders, national and regional environmental advocates, journalists and lawyers, all to examine the most pressing issues related to PFAs exposures, health effects, and building greater accountability from responsible parties. Each of these three days, according to the website, will feature a keynote presentation, and on Monday, the address will be delivered by a name people around here will recognize: Debbie Dingell, an Ann Arbor Democrat representing the sixth Congressional District and someone who's been working to address PFAs and its impacts for years. Thank you so much for joining us, Representative Dingell.

Rep. Debbie Dingell: Well, it is great to be with both of you. You're two of my favorite people, and this is a subject that I've worked on since the day I walked into Congress.

Lisa Wozniak: You have. You have. And thank you for that. And for as long as you've been pushing for more stringent PFAs standards, it took until this April to get something really significant on the books. And in April, the Biden-Harris administration put in place the first safe drinking water standards for us. And it requires public water systems to monitor and reduce and even eliminate the levels of certain PFAS chemicals in water and notify the public if it exceeds that standard. Why did it take so long, given the dangers that we already know that these forever chemicals pose?

Rep. Debbie Dingell: I don't know why it took so long. I remember asking EPA administrators under President Obama, under President Trump, and then I must say that Michael Regan made me this promise, and he has kept it. The EPA in April did the first-ever national drinking water standard. But up until their time, there was a guideline--only a guideline. Nobody had to follow it or meet it. So, when Governor Rick Snyder was governor of Michigan, he took PFAs seriously. One of the things he did was to appoint a scientific committee who recommended a stricter standard than the guideline was at the time. Now, as it turns out, what EPA actually announced in April was lower than that. But we as the state of Michigan were addressing it PFAs long before the federal government went.

David Fair: While the Safe Drinking Water Act is obviously an important step, it is limited in scope. So, what steps are needed next to get regulated standards for more or all of them?

Rep. Debbie Dingell: First of all, not everybody may know what PFAS is. It is an urgent public health and environmental threat. It's known as the Forever Chemical. Somewhere between 96 to 98% of us have it in our blood, probably at some level. And we know that it has health effects. It can cause cancer, infertility, a myriad of others including thyroid disease. And PFAS is found in water, air, fish and soil and locations all across the nation. But there are literally thousands of chemicals. And they're found in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products. So, that's made it hard to study it. PFO and PFAS, which are what the water standards addressed, are two of the major ones. I introduced the PFAS Action Act when I first came in. It's passed the House twice in a bipartisan way. It went to the Senate. I won't make my normal insults of the Senate today, but it is where bills go to die. But it would have taken a comprehensive approach to tackle this crisis and protect people. So, we have, in Michigan--you can't eat fish because PFAS is found in the fish at dangerous levels. It's in your makeup. That's not labeled. I have to say we raised the attention of it in food wrapping materials. So, we raised that during COVID when so many people were getting takeout. Many of the fast food restaurants did stop using food storage that had PFAS in it. It's in your socks. I mean, I'm a lousy cook. It was in Teflon pans--so those Teflon pans that we're using. And it's in some very serious things we need. So, when we get a tanker fire on an expressway, that firefighting foam....it has PFAS. And that's one of the biggest sources of contamination that we seen in our firefighters. I have a bill on this right now. It's the firefighters' number one priority. The firefighters who are keeping us safe first on the job--their equipment, what they wear, has PFAS in it, let alone the chemicals that they're using.

David Fair: WEMU's First Friday Focus on the environment conversation continues. My co-host is Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak, and we're talking with sixth District Congressional Representative Debbie Dingell. She'll deliver a keynote presentation at next week's National PFAS Conference being held at the Michigan League in Ann Arbor. Now, PFAS contamination has been particularly bad at many of the military bases around the country--Wurtsmith Air Force Base and Oscoda among them. But there's been some movement in progress in Oscoda of late. So, what comes next in dealing with that arm of government in addressing the contamination?

Rep. Debbie Dingell: What arm of government are we talking about?

David Fair: Well, the Pentagon and the Defense Department has, through the years, been oppositional when it comes to taking care of and remediating situations it created.

Rep. Debbie Dingell: So, we're pushing very hard in that. We have tried multiple times to get amendments to the Defense Authorization Act. And that's one of the things we have in Michigan because they were using firefighting foam. It's not to say that it was a chemical that people used to put out fires. It was a chemical that was used in military exercises. And like so many things, the testing wasn't done. The people didn't want people to know there were side effects. It was happening at the time. But we have lands across this country--the water, the land, the air —that have been polluted by the Pentagon. And I'm somebody that very strongly believes that the Pentagon should be helping to pay up for this contamination. But one of the difficulties of this is that it is a forever chemical, so it's almost impossible to dispose of in a safe way once it's identified. So, that's another challenge that we're having right now.

Lisa Wozniak: So much of our reaction to this forever chemical is dealing with it in the aftermath. Is there room to go after the manufacturers to get these products off the market? And what do we need to do to better educate consumers to get them to use alternative products?

Rep. Debbie Dingell: When I heard that PFAS was used in our makeup, I went and looked at every bit of makeup that I use, and it's not labeled. So, one, we should be labeling what's in the products we're using, and consumers should be looking. They should take time to be educated. It sounds easier than it is. And it takes having very serious situations happen to get people to be aware of it. Court cases have been brought. We know that some of the companies knew that they were beginning to see health effects. People need more stringent environmental standards. It's one of the things that I've worked on since I've walked in the door. At the federal level, we have polluter pays. We do not have it in Michigan, and I believe that we should have a polluter pay so that they are responsible for the pollution that they do cause. And we need to be doing more research and development and understanding what we think are these great things. But what are the side effects? What is the impact in health? And we need to increase our understanding of what these chemicals are doing in the environment and then, when they're getting into our bodies, what they're doing to our bodies.

Lisa Wozniak: The National PFAs Conference runs Monday through Wednesday of next week with all the experts in one place and sharing information about one another. What can we the public expect from the outcome of this conference that might help us better protect ourselves and push down the impacts of PFAs contamination?

Rep. Debbie Dingell: You know, first of all, I would say that when I started talking about PFAs because it became from Michigan, and I knew of a number of very serious instances, I started paying attention to it early. I hope that, every time there's a conference of this caliber, that it gets media attention at local, state and federal level. And I think people, when they become more educated...you know, when you say to people, "Hey, that Teflon pan I was using because it kept me from burning the omelet I was making has PFAS in it, which goes into my blood and could cause cancer down the road," they pay attention. What I hope is researchers are trying to understand the effectiveness of various technologies for removing PFAS. They're trying to understand how to safely dispose of it. And they're still studying what the impacts on our body. There are thousands of different PFAS components that are used in such things like medical devices in the heart, and there isn't something else available. That's been the problem. When you get a huge, massive fire that you don't want to see get out of control or destroy, or a fire plane explodes, you want to put it out. But we need to be doing the R&D to what are the alternatives. And when you bring people from around the world to talk about the research they've done, what they've learned, educating people, advocacy, that's how you continue to answer and address many of the issues still related to this.

Lisa Wozniak: Well, Representative Dingell, thank you so much for taking time today. We look forward to speaking with you again about this and other things very soon, and we're eager to see what the conference can accomplish.

David Fair: Yes! Thank you so much today!

Rep. Debbie Dingell: Thank you to both of you! And I can't wait to go to the conference, and we'll all learn together and keep educating everybody.

David Fair: That is sixth District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. The Ann Arbor Democrat will deliver a keynote presentation at the National Conference on PFAS. It takes place at the Michigan League in Ann Arbor beginning next Monday. It's the first of a three-day event. My co-host and content partner for First Friday focus on the Environment is Lisa Wozniak. She's executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and she pays us a visit on the first Friday of every month. We'll see you in July!

Lisa Wozniak: I look forward to it, David!

David Fair: I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Lisa Wozniak is Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
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