Fact Squad | Ad touts Elissa Slotkin’s work fighting PFAS chemicals

Screenshot of ad

A new television commercial praises U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly for fighting Michigan PFAS contamination in Washington, D.C.

The first-term Democrat is one of eight members of Congress highlighted in a new $1-million ad campaign by the League of Conservation Voters and House Majority Forward, a nonprofit with ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that is not required to disclose donors.

The issue ad does not direct viewers to vote for Slotkin, who is up for re-election this fall in the 8th Congressional swing district, but instead urges them to “thank” her and “tell her to continue fighting to keep our water safe.” 

The claims

The 30-second commercial features a local news headline saying Michigan “has the most PFAS contaminated sites in America” and argues that for too long, Washington did nothing about it. 

But Slokin did, according to the ad, which claims she “made cleaning up these dangerous chemicals” a top priority.

The commercial touts her work with Republican and Democrats to pass the bipartisan PFAS Action Act, which was approved by the House in January.

The facts

Slotkin was one of 66 co-sponsors on the PFAS Action Act, which was introduced by fellow Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and would classify PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances to ensure they qualify for the federal Superfund cleanup program.

Slotkin spoke in support of the bill on the House floor and secured an amendment requiring federal regulators to identify PFAS-free alternatives to firefighting foams linked to several contaminated sites.

The legislation appears permanently stalled in the Republican-led Senate, however, and is unlikely to become law. In fact, President Donald Trump’s administration issued a veto threat three days before the vote in the Democratic-led House.

The ad notes that Michigan has the most PFAS contaminated sites in the United States. 

But it neglects to mention a crucial caveat: A study by the Environmental Working Group that made that declaration made clear that is only because Michigan has a more aggressive testing program than other states. 

In other words, Michigan has found more contaminated sites than anyone else because it’s been looking harder than anyone else. 

The Michigan count “reinforces the fact that PFAS chemicals are everywhere – when you look for them, you find them,” researchers said.

The conclusion

There’s no doubt Slotkin has made fighting PFAS contamination a “top priority,” as the ad states. 

Besides the legislation, she’s urged the Pentagon to move faster on cleanups of Air Force bases and hosted town halls on the pollutants.

And while it’s true Slotkin “worked with Republicans and Democrats” to pass PFAS reforms, viewers of the ad could be mistaken into thinking they became law — which they didn’t

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Eric Grandstaff
Fri, 02/21/2020 - 8:50am

It might have been more clarifying to do a brief sidebar on WHY the legislation has not become law; one paragraph on Trump and the Senate does not suffice. Otherwise, you appear to lack a complete analysis of Slotkin’s motives for the ad. And, the State’s stringent testing makes me feel a lot safer that we are identifying PFAS sites. I also feel good about the legislators who, along with Slotkin, are making some efforts. Hopefully, these efforts are strongly followed up after the elections.

The context of the headline intimates she’s claiming something she didn’t do, when you conclude that she did, indeed, do it.

Bill Prescott
Fri, 02/21/2020 - 11:42am

My read of the article is that the Slotkin ad tries to suggest that Slotkin is the main (if not sole) sparkplug for the clean water effort.
typical Pelosi/Clinton hype. Enough!

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 9:20am

Too bad the other states aren’t looking as hard as we are in Michigan, but then we have an awful lot to lose because we have the most freshwater resources in the US. Michiganders are proud of their great lakes and we let the country know it.

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 9:28am

Where is the study showing the limits on PFAS that is tolerable?

Stephen C Brown
Sun, 02/23/2020 - 2:18pm

Arjay: Chemical Manufacturers are not required to disclose health hazards of their products, even when they know what they are. See "The Devil We Know" on Netflix or YouTube. There are some 1300 PFAS compounds released into the environment that are in our bodies. Enough publicly available health data on only 2 PFAS compounds has accumulated over the 70 years that they have been commercially sold, PFOS (ScotchGuard, AFFF, etc.) and PFOA (teflon production, etc). See this peer-reviewed paper concluding that health effects on children can be measured at exposures of 1 ppt for PFOS: J Immunotoxicol. 2017 December ; 14(1): 188–195. doi:10.1080/1547691X.2017.1360968. and follow the research of Phillippe Grandjean at the Harvard School of Public Health

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 9:44am

Most informed voters in CD8 will know that the Act has NOT become law, but they do need to know that they have someone in office who is working to do that. That's the point of the ad. Your article is informative, but tends to frame Slotkin (and those making the ad) as lying in this case, which is not the case.

Linda Cook MacDonald
Fri, 02/21/2020 - 9:54am

This "fact checking" of the ad is really kind of silly. In 30 seconds the ad could have said many things including thanking Michigan officials for increasing testing, and then pointed out that although the House passed the legislation, the Senate under McConnell is holding everything up. These "shortcomings" of the ad are not significant to my mind, and not a fault of the legislation. If anyone has any smarts at all regarding the legislative process they know it takes both chambers to pass the legislation. The so-called fact that the legislation is not yet a law is less a problem than that the ad does not connect the effort of Rep. Slotkin and others to protect Michiganders from PFAS contamination to republican leadership (also in the state) who refuse to pass significant legislation to protect the health and well being of Michiganders. National legislation is needed for a national problem. Nit-picking. Why?

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 11:49am

You are right that an informed voter would know that a legislative act is not a law until passed by both chambers and signed by the president but I am embarrassed to admit that until 10 years ago I would not have thought of that when hearing this ad. I've been paying much more attention to government actions lately so I think of these things now. It would have been much better if the ad had simply labeled this as an Act that passed the House. The facts are still correct though, in that Ms. Slotkin did work to get this Act passed, she does have this issue as a priority.
Sadly we adults do often need reminders to thank legislators for doing what we want them to do. Complaining seems to come more often to them than thanks. It's good to give positive feedback to legislators too!
I suppose that the people behind this ad are aiming for that thanks to come in the form of a vote. I'd go for both.

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 11:41am

What's infuriating about ads such as this one is the fact that the money for the ad would have been better put to use in clean up efforts. Instead, the money paid for an ad to pat Slotkin on the back and to remind grown adults to use their manners. This very much comes off as an egotistical move and nothing more, in my opinion. Michigan is locating more sites. Great! What is Michigan doing about the clean up? Not enough! Michigan, instead, is waiting on the federal government to change laws instead of changing state laws and enforcing those. This whole situation is an embarrassing debacle.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 11:31am

I often think similarly about money spent in political advertising, but I realize that something must first change in the way we in America depend upon advertising to elect government officials. It doesn't infuriate me though. It moves me to investigate other ways of getting information and persuading voters. (In my fanciful moments I imagine the invention of a vaccine that would make everyone immune to all advertising!) Also, this ad cannot be egotistical because it was not made by Ms. Slotkin or her re-election campaign. Those two organizations which did pay for the ad likely believe that the contamination of Michigan waters by PFAS/PFOS can best be rectified by government powers, not private individuals or organizations, so they put their money to electing representatives that will do something about it. Is there more that you and I can do about this than vote, or complain?

Jim L Fenner
Fri, 02/21/2020 - 5:56pm

Again, agreeing with some of the comments, the authors seem to imply that Rep Slotkin is doing something wrong or is being less that truthful. I find this to be a typical 'hit' job by republican leaning authors. Instead of suggesting something nefarious, you all should be congratulating Rep Slotkin for working hard to protect Michiganians. I continue to find a right leaning bias in your so-called 'neutral' digital magazine. Sad.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 8:47pm

>>>>>>Slotkin was one of 66 co-sponsors on the PFAS Action Act, which was introduced by fellow Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and would classify PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances to ensure they qualify for the federal Superfund cleanup program.

Unfortunately, the "PFAS Action Act" did NOT declare that PFAS chemical wastes would be considered as hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This permits such chemicals to be disposed of in landfills.....something that is primitive waste management for these substances and which allows MDEGLE to employ contractors to collect fire foam and send it to landfills.

Practices like these were supposed to be banned nearly 40 years ago under the RCRA, but MDEGLE director Liesl Clark allowed her agency to evade its own hazardous waste identification rules to set a non-hazardous waste declaration for this highly toxic waste fire fighting foam. In 1984, Congress enacted law stating that hazardous waste containing more than 1000 ppm of halogenated hydrocarbon compounds would be banned from landfilling if the materials were designated as hazardous waste.

Rep. Slotkin has been advocating that incineration of PFAS waste in high temperature hazardous waste incinerators be banned, but she did not answer a question raised on this matter at a recent East Lansing townhall as to what scientific basis she had for her opposition.

The other problem with the PFAS Action Act is that it designates PFAS compounds as Clean Air Act hazardous air pollutants without making the required showings and demonstrations for such a designation. Under the Clean Air Act, hazardous air pollutant control rule adoption is a long and arduous process, and much more rapid emission standards for their control could be promulgated under other provisions of the CAA.