Regulating Toxic Compounds: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

January 23, 2020|11:06 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Even if you aren’t familiar with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), you are likely familiar with the materials this family of man-made chemicals is used in: water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, paints, firefighting foams, and cookware. During production and use, PFAS can migrate into the soil, water, and air. But because of their wide use and the fact that they do not easily breakdown in the environment, PFAS can accumulate over time in people and animals. In some instances, exposure to and absorption of certain PFAS has been associated with harmful health effects such as, low infant birth weight and increased risk of certain types of cancers.

States are taking a variety of policy approaches to address PFAS contamination. In 2019, state legislative proposals included:

  • the assessment or monitoring the presence of PFAS and health effects;
  • setting quality standards;
  • restricting the use, sale, or distribution of products containing PFAS;
  • PFAS remediation and response activities; and calls for federal support.

ASTHO expects to see additional state legislative trends around the use of PFAS chemicals in food and product packaging, the advancement of research to better understand the health effects of PFAS contamination, and calls for federal guidance to standardize assessments and set environmental limits. Below is an overview of state legislation to address PFAS contamination that will be considered during the 2020 state legislative session so far. If you want more information, you can read more on this in ASTHO’s State 2020 Legislative Prospectus on PFAS.

Firefighting Practices
Firefighting foams containing PFAS are a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs. The Indiana legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit the use of Class B firefighting foam containing an intentionally added PFAS chemical for training and testing purposes, unless the testing facility has implemented appropriate measures to prevent releases of the firefighting foam to the environment.

In New York, a proposed bill would place restrictions on the sale and use of firefighting equipment containing PFAS chemicals. Wisconsin companion bills (SB 310 and AB 323) carried over from 2019 would prohibit the use of firefighting foams designed for use on a flammable liquid fire and that contain PFAS unless used in emergency firefighting or fire prevention operations.

Washington State introduced two bills regulating the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals. HB 2265 would eliminating exemptions from restrictions on the use of PFAS substances in firefighting foam. HB 1143, carried over from the 2019 session, would require notification of the discharge or use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals. Similarly, the New Hampshire legislature is considering a bill that would require the state’s Department of Environmental Services to maintain a public registry of where certain fire suppressants have been discharged, stored, collected, managed, or disposed of.

Water Quality Standards
PFAS can also be found in drinking water and is typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g. manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, or firefighting training facility). Florida (HB 1427 and SB 1720), Virginia, and Illinois are considering legislation that would require the state to implement rules for drinking water maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFAS and other pollutants. In all three states, the bills would also address health equity concerns by requiring the MCLs to protect public health, including vulnerable subpopulations such as pregnant and nursing women, infants, children, and financially disadvantaged small communities.

The New Hampshire legislature carried over a bill from the 2019 session that would require the Department of Environmental Services to adopt rules ensuring PFAS levels do not exceed between 13 parts per trillion (ppt) and 20 ppt depending on the type of PFAS present in both ambient groundwater and public water systems. A similar bill (HB 1537) would require the Department of Environmental Services--in collaboration with the department of health and human services--to adopt MCLs for PFAS chemicals.

New York will also consider a bill carried over from the 2019 session that would create the well water and water supply education act. The Act would authorize the state’s Department of Health to establish and maintain a public education program on the potential health effects of consuming water that does not meet state drinking water standards, and on potential water contaminants including PFAS chemicals.

Remediation & Response
A proposed New Hampshire bill would establish the PFAS contamination remediation and mitigation revolving loan program and fund. Any money the state receives from lawsuits or settlements with manufacturers of products containing PFAS will go in the fund and can be used for assisting municipalities and members of the public who have been harmed by the presence of PFAS in the air, soil, or water through the issuing of loans.

An Arizona bill would provide funding to the Department of Environmental Quality to assist public water systems in remediating PFAS substance levels that exceed the health advisory level determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Packaging & Products
People can also be exposed to PFAS through the chemical’s use in food and product packaging. Recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) tested samples of commonly consumed foods in the U.S. for PFAS, and their findings did not detect PFAS in the majority of food samples and did not find clear evidence that PFAS is a food safety risk. Still, some states have passed or are considering legislative action to address the use of PFAS in food packaging.

New York companion bills (A 4739 and S 2000) carried over from the 2019 session prohibit the sale or distribution of food packaging that contains PFAS substances. Another set of New York companion bills (A 6269 and S 501) require that lists of dangerous chemicals and chemicals of concern, including PFAS, be publicly posted. In addition, chemicals may be identified as dangerous if they are present in a children’s product and meet certain criteria. These bills passed both the Assembly and Senate in December and await the governor’s signature.

Legislating PFAS gives lawmakers an opportunity to advance research and assessments 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 monitor and inform its members of legislative activity in this area.