PFAS bill could impose bans

By COLIN A. YOUNG

By State House News Service

Published: 06-23-2023 4:38 PM

BOSTON — Following years of a piecemeal approach to PFAS contamination and more than a year after a task force unanimously recommended 30 steps to deal with the problem, environmental groups, consumer advocates, firefighters and the Attorney General’s Office came before the Public Health Committee this week to push for legislation that would represent the state’s most significant step toward curbing “forever chemicals.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that do not break down entirely in the environment, and exposure to their long-lasting presence has been linked to serious and negative health impacts like thyroid disease and kidney cancer. PFAS chemicals are all around us — they are used in non-stick cookware, food packaging, children’s products, carpets, leather goods, ski wax, firefighting foams and more — and they have leeched into drinking water supplies and the soil.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Goldberg, who works in the AG’s Environmental Protection Division, said that studies have estimated that 99% of the U.S. population has detectable levels of PFAS in their bloodstream.

“We’re all exposed to PFAS on a daily basis from the coated cookware that we use to make our food, the treated fabrics we wear and use, and the water supplies from which we drink,” Goldberg told the Public Health Committee as he voiced support for legislation that would implement many of the 30 recommendations made last year by the PFAS Interagency Task Force that he served on.

Filed by Rep. Kate Hogan of Stow and Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro, the bill (H 2197 / S 1356) would ban the use of PFAS in most products to prevent new contamination, require sellers to inform customers if PFAS chemicals are present in their products, create new programs to clean up contamination that already exists and have the state regulate PFAS chemicals as one class rather than individually.

“As long as we keep making and using things with PFAS, we will keep contaminating our bodies and the environment with ever-increasing amounts of PFAS. The only solution is to turn off the tap,” said Laura Spark, senior policy advocate at Clean Water Action.

Firefighter protective gear, food packaging, children’s products, cookware, rugs and carpets, upholstered furniture, personal care products and fabric treatments with intentionally added PFAS chemicals could not be sold after Jan. 1, 2026. In 2030, the ban would extend to effectively any product to which the substances are intentionally added unless state regulators determine the use of PFAS is “currently unavoidable” and approve a maximum exemption of three years. Some products would need to be tested for unintentionally added PFAS starting in 2030.

“This law is similar to those passed in other states. This law is supported by an impressive array and a unanimous array of organizations and scientists. ... This law is a plan to eliminate PFAS to the maximum extent possible. After 80 years of unfettered production and usage, PFAS is found throughout our state and around the world. And as we know, it lasts forever,” said Clint Richmond, toxic policy lead for the Massachusetts Sierra Club. “We must protect our citizens and residents as Article 97 of our Constitution mandates, which states that the people shall have the right to clean air and clean water. And like those other pervasive petrochemicals, plastics, PFAS is the ultimate environmental contaminant.”

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The legislation would also create a PFAS Remediation Trust Fund that would steer grant dollars to municipalities and water systems to help clean up contamination in drinking water, groundwater and soil. And the state Department of Environmental Protection would be directed under the bill to amend surface water and groundwater discharge permits to require PFAS monitoring.

“We are supportive of the legislation’s overarching goals of providing support to our water systems, communities and residents who are facing PFAS contamination, addressing source control of PFAS and providing better public education regarding PFAS,” said Jennifer Pederson, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Works Association.

Pederson said one of the biggest challenges facing her organization’s members is funding the treatment that is necessary when drinking water is found to contain PFAS at elevated levels. The Massachusetts Clean Water Trust has committed $212 million in state revolving loan funds to help pay for 26 PFAS-related drinking water projects and other water systems have privately financed the treatment, she said. Thirty-nine water systems are in the process of trying to bring PFAS levels down below the state standard.

Massachusetts currently regulates six PFAS compounds in drinking water with a threshold of 20 parts per trillion. If new federal requirements that set enforceable limits for pollution from two specific PFAS compounds in drinking water at four parts per trillion are made final, Pederson said, an additional 149 public water systems will be impacted.

“We greatly appreciate that this legislation establishes a PFAS remediation fund. We do have concerns that the primary mechanism for funding it will be potential settlements associated with the claims against the manufacturers of” aqueous film-forming foam used in firefighting, she said.

Pederson added, “We would urge the committee to identify other funding sources, not only for treatment installation but ongoing operations and maintenance.”

PFAS contamination is a problem that has been on the Legislature’s radar for years and many lawmakers have stories about how the problem has affected their districts, both from a health perspective and financially.

A push to take sweeping action to address PFAS contamination this session could benefit from the fact that the two chief sponsors of leading PFAS legislation, Hogan and Cyr, hold leadership positions in their chambers. Hogan is the House speaker pro tempore and Cyr is the Senate’s assistant majority whip.

The Hogan/Cyr bill has significant support beyond environmental and consumer protection groups. More than 70 of the Legislature’s 200 lawmakers have cosponsored one or both versions of the bill.

And while Gov. Maura Healey’s administration has not taken a position on the bill (other than to say the governor would review it if it reaches her desk), Healey joined with colleagues from around the country urging Congress to rein in PFAS chemicals and suing manufacturers of firefighting foam containing the substances during her tenure as attorney general.

During a February radio interview, the governor described PFAS contamination as a “big problem” and said reining in the impact of PFAS chemicals is a priority for her administration.

“When it comes to PFAS, know that I want to do everything we can as a state to help homeowners out, of course, help municipalities out,” Healey said on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.” “PFAS is a big problem. The numbers around PFAS in terms of its cost are just astronomical. We’re definitely going to need help from the federal government.”

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