A type of man-made chemicals found in consumer packaging and firefighting foam will likely be phased out in the state of Connecticut because of their suspected negative effects on the environment and public health.
A bill that aims to end the use of firefighting foam and food packaging passed 146-0 in the State House of Representatives on Monday. The Senate is expected to approve the legislation before the end of session.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of 4,700 chemicals that are found in cookware, firefighting foam and food packaging. The US Center for Disease Control has found links between PFAS and high blood pressure, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of certain types of cancer and low infant birth rates.
“These PFAS chemicals are extraordinarily dangerous,” said State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, who introduced the bill. “They are detected in breastmilk … They are found throughout our environment and it is a problem that is getting worse.”
PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they possess a strong fluoro-carbon bond that resists breaking down. As a result, they can build up both in the environment and within the human body.
The bill will phase out the use of AFFF fire fighting foam, one of the biggest sources of PFAS spills. Starting in July 2021, the foam will no longer be used for training and testing purposes, and by October will no longer be used for fighting fires. Certain locations, like airports, will be exempt because of federal regulations that require this particular foam be kept on the premises, until October of 2023.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is required to develop a program to take back and dispose of the AFFF foam. Raymond Frigon, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Water Protection at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, estimated that about 40,000 gallons of foam need to be disposed of in the state.
Frigon told CT Examiner in April that collecting and disposing of the AFFF foam is the most important thing his agency can do to prevent further PFAS contamination. The project is funded by a $2 million bond as part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s 2019 PFAS Action Plan.
Frigon said they were considering several options for disposing of the foam. High-temperature incineration is one, but Frigon said that burning the foam might cause by-products they weren’t aware of. Another option is to store the foam in a facility or place it in a landfill with safeguards in case the foam leaks.
Frigon said that the foam is used almost on a daily basis within the state, and many areas that have become hotspots for PFAS were training grounds for firefighters.
The bill also requires DEEP to approve an alternative to the foam — Palm mentioned a foam called Universal F3 Green as a fluorine-free alternative. The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s Commission on Fire Prevention and Control has identified this as a replacement foam, according to the department’s website.
A second common use of PFAS is in consumer packaging. The chemicals are used to make certain equipment and packaging more durable, to grease-proof food containers and to non-stick cooking pans.
The bill would prevent the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging beginning in December of 2023. It makes an exception for medical devices and medical equipment, which use a particular class of PFAS called fluoropolymers.
New York, Washington and Maine have all passed laws banning the use of PFAS in food packaging, and
Massachusetts introduced a similar bill in its state legislature this year.
Palm said that the bill would not penalize consumers or small businesses that purchase PFAS-containing items. It would be limited to banning the manufacture and the distribution of PFAS-containing materials within the state. State Rep. Stephen Harding Jr, R-Brookfield, gave the example that if a company from out of state shipped or sold PFAS-containing items to a business in Connecticut, the company sending or selling the material would be the ones in violation of the law.
“We’re not penalizing small businesses,” said Harding. “We’re placing that burden on the manufacturers and on the distributors, which I think is critically important.”
The bill was amended on the floor to include a provision that would remove liability for the “unintentional” presence of PFAS in a product. According to Palm, manufacturers were concerned that trace amounts of PFAS could accidentally find their way into a consumer product.
Manufacturers will be required to keep on hand and make available a certificate of compliance. Companies and manufacturers that don’t apply will be required to pay a $10,000 fine per offense.
Robert J. Simon, vice president of the Chemical Products & Technology Divisions at the American Chemistry Council, which testified against a version of the bill in January, told CT Examiner that the organization generally supports legislation eliminating PFAS in food packaging when there are approved alternatives.
Tom Flanagin, director of product communications for the group, followed up to explain that the American Chemistry Council supports efforts to regulate PFAS in food packaging consistent with FDA requirements, and “targeted efforts to eliminate certain PFAS chemistries … from food packaging along the process and timeline supported by the FDA.” Flanagin wrote that the “reason that timeline is important is because for many uses there aren’t alternatives.”
State Rep. Ferraro also questioned why the phase-out was taking place over two years rather than five. Palm, however, said that companies were already in the process of phasing out PFAS chemicals and that safe alternatives were available.
Anne Hulick, the Connecticut director of Clean Water Action, an advocacy group for environmental and health policy, said that companies like Stop and Shop and Trader Joe’s are looking to phase out the use of PFAS. She said that fiber-based plant products are being considered as potential replacements for the chemicals.
State Rep. Jane Garibay, D- Windsor, pointed to a PFAS-related spill in Windsor in June 2019.
“It put a halt to fishing … swimming, canoeing and recreational activities. It also affected our firefighters and emergency personnel,” she said. “Anything that we can do to encourage the elimination of PFAS is a good thing.”
“PFAS is something that is a damaging chemical,” said Harding. “It’s not only bad for the environment, it’s bad for public health here in the state of Connecticut.”
This news story was edited to clarify and include further comments from the American Chemistry Council