This July, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut took a major step in combating the threat of harmful chemicals called PFAS by signing into Connecticut state law a bill that will ban the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam and food packaging by the year 2023.
PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a category of man-made chemicals that are commonly found in firefighting foam (also known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF), used to extinguish fires.
Numerous studies show that PFAS in AFFF may spur the development of cancer. Often, PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally in the environment, instead persisting in water and soil for decades.
Governor Lamont signed the bill in a ceremony held alongside the Farmington River in Windsor, Connecticut. The law, titled An Act Concerning the Use of PFAS Substances in Class B Firefighting Foam, will be enforced on firefighting foam (AFFF) starting in October 2021.
Slowly, between now and the year 2023, PFAS use will be slowly phased out in food packaging sold in Connecticut, sending a clear message to the food-packaging industry that the state wants overall safer packaging materials.
Why Are PFAS Dangerous?
Along with several national and global health organizations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges there is an increased risk of “adverse health outcomes” for people who are exposed to PFAS.
While PFAS have been used extensively in the United States since the 1960s, the deadly side effects of the chemical have only recently become widely known.
The health risks are especially high among firefighters, particularly firefighters who serve in the military or have been assigned to work at airports, because AFFF has shown effectiveness in extinguishing intense jet-fuel and petroleum fires.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society (ACS), firefighters run a higher risk of developing cancer because of the frequency with which they are (or have been) exposed to PFAS.
PFAS-containing AFFF is linked to cases of:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer (colon and/or rectal cancer)
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Renal or kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
PFAS have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” because they do not break down over time. As a result, PFAS can remain inside of the human body for years, building up over time and leading to serious health risks.
A Major Win for CT Residents and the Environment
Though Connecticut is not the first American state to announce a ban on PFAS, it will be the first to see its new law take effect. Earlier in July 2021, Maine became the first government in the world to ban the sale of products containing PFAS, though their new state law will not be enforced until the year 2030.
While Maine and Connecticut are the first two states to enact such bans for the betterment of public health and safety, they likely won’t be the last. Other states have similar initiatives in motion, including Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Vermont, among others.
About Connecticut’s new law, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Betsey Wingfield said:
“This law provides the mechanism to ensure that [PFAS are] taken out of circulation and replaced with a safer alternative, and also reduces the amount of PFAS-containing products residents come into contact with in their daily lives.”
Safer alternatives to PFAS are the ultimate goal. Only by outlawing these harmful man-made chemicals can citizens and the environment be better protected. “This new law makes Connecticut residents safer, plain and simple,” Governor Lamont said. He continued:
“Reducing the potential for another release of these forever chemicals into our environment, and reducing the amount of PFAS-containing products in circulation in our state, is the right thing to do for the health of the residents of Connecticut and our environment.”
Connecticut’s new law follows through on multiple goals Governor Lamont established when he laid out his 2019 PFAS Action Plan two years ago. Namely, the law will minimize the amount of PFAS ultimately released into the environment and lower the overall human health risk facing Connecticut state residents.
As only the second state to sign such a bill into law, it remains to be seen whether other states will follow suit. One hopes, however, that the actions taken in Connecticut are just the beginning of a national and worldwide trend.