Frustrated by federal inaction, a number of state legislatures have moved to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals within their own borders.
At least 5 states have introduced bills that would impose limits on the use of so-called “forever chemicals,” which are used in a variety of consumer products, including stain-resistant fabrics, food packaging, non-stick pans, and firefighting foams.
If passed, these bills would go well beyond any actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by:
- Setting maximum contamination levels
- Delivering funds to help clean up water supplies
- Potentially banning their use entirely
State legislatures have proposed such measures to protect local citizens from the well-documented toxic effects of PFAS.
What Are PFAS Chemicals?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of man-made chemicals favored for their durability. Their tough, nearly indestructible molecular bonds make them well-suited for a range of industrial uses. But they’re also toxic.
Having been manufactured in some form or another since the 1950s, PFAS chemicals exist everywhere in nature — in the air, in sources of drinking water, and in our bodies.
It’s estimated PFAS can be found in the blood of 99% of Americans. At high enough doses, certain PFAS chemicals have been found to cause thyroid problems, liver and kidney disease, and cancer. Most alarmingly, they don’t seem to break down on their own, and can actually accumulate in the body.
The EPA has classified PFAS as “emerging contaminants,” meaning they are a probable threat to human health or the environment, but the agency has taken little-to-no action to control their use.
In its most recent PFAS Action Plan, the EPA provided a new way to test drinking water, a recommendation to assess groundwater contamination, a request for public comment, and a “preliminary determination to regulate” forever chemicals in drinking water.
Understandably, critics have derided the move as inadequate.
States Move to Combat Dangers of Firefighting Foam
Responding to the lack of direction at the federal level, a number of states have taken up the initiative themselves, as reported by Bloomberg.
In North Carolina, lawmakers have put forth 7 bills that would regulate, study, or ban PFAS altogether.
Among the most aggressive state measures being considered, North Carolina’s proposed laws include efforts to study the health of populations surrounding specific chemical plants, as well as one law that would ban the statewide manufacture, use, and distribution of PFAS, including any products that contain them.
Given the majority-Republican makeup of the North Carolina legislature, as well as the fact that all 7 of the bills were sponsored by Democrats, there is little to no guarantee that any of the bills will pass.
In other states, there may be more hope. Minnesota’s state legislature has introduced 3 bills that would ban PFAS in food packaging and allocate funds for cleanup efforts. New York is considering a ban on PFAS incineration for PFAS-containing firefighting foams, which a recent Intercept investigation found may worsen containment efforts.
Other bills in Delaware and Colorado seek to limit contamination levels, and earlier this month a coalition of 22 states formed to urge the EPA to expand its regulation of forever chemicals.
Specifically, that coalition wants the EPA controls to include more of the roughly 5,000 or so PFAS chemicals in existence, instead of merely the 2 most notorious ones — PFOA and PFOS. (PFOA and PFOS were manufactured for decades in the production of Teflon and are the most widely studied by scientists.)
"Right now, the EPA is only proposing to regulate 2 compounds even though there are a number of compounds that are in this family,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told Wisconsin Public Radio. “And there's reason to believe that those other compounds are dangerous for human health as well.”
With states capable of doing only so much, and with the EPA on the verge of regulatory capture, the public, as usual, appears to be getting the short stick when it comes to PFAS.