State Activity Addressing PFAS Exposure

September 06, 2018|2:23 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Over the past couple of years, rising health concerns related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have resulted in state policymakers taking action to reduce, monitor, and regulate PFAS exposure. For example, Michigan’s efforts to test all of the state’s water systems for PFAS revealed alarming levels of PFAS in the drinking water of one township and led to a declared state emergency.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used for decades in industry and consumer products (e.g., non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, and cosmetics) and used in firefighting foam across the country. During production and use, PFAS can migrate into soil, water, and air. Because most PFAS do not breakdown, they remain in the environment. As a result, PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals and are present at low levels in many food products. Some PFAS can build up in people and animals with repeated exposure over time.

There is evidence that exposure to PFAS may cause harmful health effects. Studies show that PFAS may affect growth, learning, or the behavior of infants and older children, lower a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant, interfere with the body’s natural hormones, increase cholesterol levels, affect the immune system, and increase the risk of certain types of cancers.

State legislation has taken a variety of approaches to address PFAS contamination, including assessing or monitoring the presence and health effects of PFAS, setting quality standards, restricting the use, sale, or distribution of PFAS, as well as PFAS remediation, response activities, and calls for federal support. Below are recent examples of these legislative efforts.

Assessing and Monitoring

In New Hampshire, a law was enacted requiring the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to submit reports on monitoring and testing relative to levels of two common type of PFAS: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This was done in the Seacoast area as well as other sites identified as sources of the contaminants. In Michigan a resolution was adopted that tasked the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) with creating a PFAS Scientific Advisory Committee to review current knowledge of PFAS and conduct a risk assessment that MPART will use to develop the Michigan PFAS action plan.

In New Jersey a bill was introduced requiring the state’s department of environmental protection to assess the application of PFAS in food packaging, determine whether a safer alternative to the chemical is available, and adopt rules prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or distribution of food packaging utilizing specific applications of PFAS.

Setting Standards

New Hampshire passed legislation (SB 309, HB 1101) directing DES to evaluate and set ambient ground water quality standards for PFAS, set maximum contaminant limits (MCL) for public drinking water, and develop a plan for establishing surface water quality standards for PFAS. In New Jersey, the state’s department of environmental protection recently established the MCL for perfluorononanoic acid, a type of PFAS.

Pennsylvania proposed amendments to the state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (SB 852, HB 1640, HB 1398) that would add PFAS to the definition of “hazardous substance” and give the governor authority to declare municipalities special drinking water resource-impacted communities based on the release or threatened release of PFAS measured at or above 15 parts per trillion (ppt). In Michigan an amendment was proposed to its Safe Drinking Water Act, which would set standards for PFOS and PFOA at five ppt. In 2018, Wisconsin failed to pass a bill that would have required the state’s department of health services to establish state health-based groundwater quality standards for PFOA and PFOS.

Restricting Use

Michigan, New York, and Washington state have specifically targeted PFAS used in firefighting training. In 2017, Washington state passed legislation restricting the use, sale, and distribution of firefighting foam that contains PFAS for training purposes. The law includes notification requirements for manufacturers or persons that sell firefighting personal protective equipment containing PFAS. Lawmakers in New York introduced similar bills in 2018 (SB 8575, AB 11181). Michigan also proposed two bills (HB 6186, HB 6185) limiting the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS in firefighting training, requiring proper storage, containment, and disposal of firefighting foam, and requiring fire departments to submit reports after using firefighting foam.

Remediation and Response

Michigan passed appropriations bills HB 4320 (2017) and SB 848 (2018) allocating funds for PFAS remediation and response activities, laboratory equipment and support, community water supply sampling, grants to local public health departments engaged in PFAS response activities, and investigations into the effect of PFAS contamination on Michigan’s wildlife and fisheries population. Michigan also introduced an amendment to the “Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act” (HB 6245), which allows for the allocation of funds for activities to address public health and environmental problems including the remediation of PFAS.

In 2017, Vermont enacted a law authorizing the secretary of natural resources to determine whether a person that released PFOA into the air, groundwater, surface water, or land is liable for the costs of extending the water supply of a public water system to an impacted property.

Federal Support

States are also looking to the federal government to provide additional information and support to address public health concerns and activities around PFAS. In Pennsylvania a resolution was adopted in 2018 urging the HHS secretary to conduct exposure assessments of two former naval bases on which the U.S. military used foam containing PFAS in firefighting training. Three proposed resolutions in Michigan (SCR 35, HCR 24, HR 351) call for the federal government to release draft toxicological profile on PFAS prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to develop a national environmental limit for PFAS and increase coordination and funding.

PFAS legislation provides an opportunity to advance research and assessments that will enable states to better understand the health outcomes of PFAS contamination and communicate with the public about exposure risks. In addition, states that establish quality standards and restrict the use or sale of products containing PFAS are better able to protect the public’s health. ASTHO will continue to track legislation and update members on this emerging public health issue.

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