Increasing awareness about widespread PFAS contamination and their harmful effects on human health and the environment has led more than twenty states in the U.S. to take action to protect their communities while they wait for the EPA to advance federal regulations to tackle the PFAS crisis, reports Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The initiatives by states include banning the use of PFAS in some consumer products, stricter water quality standards, or empowering their agencies to accelerate regulations. Cleanup efforts are also underway, as well as multimillion-dollar lawsuits against polluters.
Safer States, an alliance of environmental health organizations across the U.S, is keeping track of state actions, including 203 policies in 31 states. “More governmental bodies are looking and finding PFAS in water, sludge and the air”, said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States, adding that “the interest and action is just increasing”.
The situation has resulted in a patchwork of regulations, while supporters for action on PFAS call for federal level regulations to restrict uses to prevent further contamination, clean up the environment and hold companies accountable for contamination in the past. Meanwhile, industry advocates claim that broad PFAS regulation could result in banning harmless and very useful chemicals. “All PFAS are not the same, and they should not be regulated the same way,” the American Chemistry Council said in a statement.
At the forefront of states taking action to phase out PFAS is Maine, which in 2021 adopted a policy to ban all uses of PFAS unless the use is necessary for public health and there is safer alternative yet, to take effect in 2030. Other states have put forward policies that target PFAS in food packaging, textiles, cosmetics and firefighting foam. Last week California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills banning PFAS from cosmetic products and textiles, beginning in 2025. They follow laws signed last year banning the use of PFAS in children’s products and disposable food packaging, beginning in 2023. Newsom vetoed, though, a bill which would have generated publicly accessible information on items containing intentionally added PFAS, on cost grounds.
Other states are focusing on laws to accelerate PFAS regulation by their agencies, such Washington’s Department of Ecology, which will be able to issue bans by 2025. Elsewhere, agency officials are leading efforts to address PFAS, such as in Michigan, where seven agencies have put together the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART). Recognizing that “the biggest threat to public health has been around water quality”, the MPART is involved in testing and regulating some PFAS compounds in drinking water, groundwater and surface water.
Finally, there is much work ahead to clean up legacy contamination in water and soil. Florida passed a bill this year that ensure the establishment of state rules on PFAS clean up by 2025 if the EPA has not set national standards by that time. Cleaning up contaminated drinking water wells is a huge expense. The state of New Hampshire has created a $25 million loan fund to remediate public water systems and wastewater facilities contaminated with PFAS.
PFAS can also be found in sewage sludge, a by-product of water treatment widely used as fertilizer. While Michigan and Maine have tested sludge and found contamination in all samples, other states are not testing the sludge before it is applied to farmland. Maine became the first state to ban the spreading of sludge contaminated with PFAS.
Although some industry representatives think it is not fair to hold manufacturers accountable for all cases of PFAS contamination, some states would prefer polluting companies to pay, rather than taxpayers. Fifteen state attorneys general have so far filed lawsuits against companies in relation to PFAS contamination; two of them reached settlements, but others are ongoing.