Connecticut Seeks to Ban Dangerous PFAS Chemicals
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a class of human-made “forever chemicals” that are persistent, do not break down in the environment, and are linked to kidney, testicular, and liver cancers, reproductive disorders, infertility, low birth weights, thyroid disruption, asthma, increases in cholesterol, and resistance to vaccines in children.1 Recently, they have been linked to increased severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
PFAS are found in a wide variety of consumer products including non-stick pans, paper food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast food wrappings, other packaging materials, waxes, water- and stain-proof clothing and textiles, and aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF). As these products are used and disposed of, the PFAS migrate into groundwater and contaminate drinking water sources. They are extremely long-lasting and difficult to clean up, cannot be recycled, and some bioaccumulate in the bodies of humans and wildlife. With over 9000 chemicals in this class, it is impractical to try to regulate them one at a time, so addressing them as a class is recommended.
As a result of the widespread use of PFAS, millions of Americans are drinking water containing PFAS. PFAS pollution has been documented at 2,337 sites in 49 states, as of January 2021, including Connecticut. As a public health advocate and a homeowner with a private well, I was alarmed to read reports of PFAs found in the Connecticut and Farmington Rivers, sites in Ellington, and in Greenwich wells. Connecticut DEEP has issued fish consumption advisories for PFAS in some fish in the Farmington, Natchaug/Willimantic/Shetucket Rivers and plans more widespread water testing in the near future.
This class of chemicals is now found in the blood of most Americans at low levels, and an estimated 110 million Americans have been exposed at levels above “safe” standards. This has become a public health and environmental crisis! The U.S. lags in phasing them out, but there are some positive developments. Chemical manufacturer Dupont plans to phase out PFAS foams at their refineries after hiding the health impacts of water pollution around their plants that was caused by this class of chemicals, as seen in the film “Dark Waters”. Manufacturers and retailers are moving away from their use as well.
The Connecticut General Assembly is considering two bills which would help to limit our exposure to PFAS in consumer product packaging (Senate Bill 926) and in firefighting foam (Senate Bill 837).
Senate Bill (S.B.) 926, AN ACT CONCERNING THE PRESENCE OF PFAS IN CERTAIN CONSUMER PACKAGING
This bill would prohibit the sale of all consumer packaging that contains PFAS.
Consumer packaging is a significant and direct source of human exposure and contaminates the environment and water sources upon disposal. Food packaging containing PFAS can transmit PFAS to the food contained in the packaging. Reducing packaging that contains PFAS will have a big impact on our waste stream, as not only is packaging generally single use, it can’t be recycled or composted if it contains PFAS!
The good news is that safer alternatives are available, and much consumer packaging does not contain PFAS now. Washington state, New York and Maine have banned the use of PFAS in food packaging and food service ware, and at least 10 other states are working to pass similar bills. Some large restaurant chains, notably McDonalds, plan to phase out the chemical from their packaging. The Vermont Senate recently passed the most comprehensive PFAS bill in the country. It restricts PFAS (and two other large classes of chemicals--bisphenols and phthalates) in food packaging, and PFAS in firefighting foam, carpets, rugs, aftermarket treatments (as in anti-stain) and ski wax. Connecticut should join its neighbors to protect our environment and residents.
S.B. 837, AN ACT CONCERNING THE USE OF PERFLUOROALKYL OR POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES IN CLASS B FIREFIGHTING FOAM
This bill would prohibit the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS for training purposes and establish a take-back program for such products.
We all know about the tragic accident when thousands of gallons of firefighting foam laden with PFAS were spilled into the Farmington River. To understand the magnitude of contamination of our waters and soil, multiply this exponentially by all the firefighting training and petroleum-based fuel fires where this foam has been used for decades at factories, military bases, and airports, all across Connecticut and the U.S. We need to prioritize protecting our health and environment from this class of chemicals.
There is hope. Safer, effective fluoride-free foams are available and are used around the world. Take back and replacement programs are planned. Without strong federal regulations, states are taking the lead. Washington, Colorado, and New Hampshire have banned the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. Connecticut should join these efforts to protect our citizens and our drinking water.
TAKE ACTION: Send a message to your legislators!
Sierra Club Connecticut supports SB 926 and SB 837. Passing these bills into law would be a huge step to improve public health in our state and help to push manufacturers to remove these toxic chemicals from their products. Please urge your legislators to support and co-sponsor them! Take this quick action, or better, write your own letter or email!
LEARN MORE about what Sierra Club is doing to fight PFAS contamination at the national level at PFAS: What You Need to Know About Your Water.
Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.