Big chem

Big Chem Pushes Back Against PFAS Ban

by | Feb 8, 2024

THE TOPLINE

  • While the federal government dithers, states have taken the lead in passing laws to protect consumers from PFAS contamination. Maine passed one of the first and strongest of such laws.
  • But with every action comes a reaction. Special interests in Maine are arguing the law is too strong and will hurt the economy.
  • State and federal regulators need to prioritize people over profits. Help us support a ban on PFAS chemicals as a class.

A[/dropap]s the federal government continues to take painfully small steps to rein in the extensive PFAS contamination that threatens human and ecological health, states are picking up the slack. Maine issued the first phased ban on intentionally added PFAS chemicals in most products in 2023. This is how democracies are supposed to work, but now Maine is seeing major pushback from polluting industries saying that the law will destroy the state’s economy. What’s playing out in Maine is a microcosm for the rest of the country, which is why we need to keep up the grassroots pressure on our federal representatives to issue a ban on PFAS chemicals as a class.

The Maine law was enacted in response to big problem. To illustrate: it was reported that a Maine farming family had discovered that the previous landowners had been using biosolids (aka sewage sludge) as fertilizer for years before they purchased the property. Consequently, the water on their land contained 400 times the safe limit of PFAS, as determined by the state.

This is how democracy should work. In response to a public health crisis where lives are in danger, lawmakers enact policies that protect public health.

Maine’s law requires manufacturers to report on the use and amount of intentionally added PFAS in products sold within the state. By 2030, products containing intentionally added PFAS will not be allowed to be sold in Maine.

As a reminder, PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals used in many thousands of consumer products. They are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and accumulate in blood and organs. They are linked to a host of serious negative health effects (see Figure below).

big chem

Figure. Established negative health effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), showing relative degree of scientific certainty. Source: Fenton SE et al. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2021; 40(3): 606–630.

 

The state’s Chamber of Commerce is now fighting back against this consumer protection law, arguing that the law will cause Maine’s economy to shrink and major employers to leave the state if the law isn’t changed. The Chamber’s president has asked lawmakers to eliminate the section of the law requiring companies to notify the state if products contain PFAS and expand the list of exempted industries from the 2030 ban.

These are classic industry tactics. They were the same arguments used by the auto industry to fight against federal regulations for safer cars in the 1970s (by requiring seat belts, collapsible steering columns, etc.). Yes, regulations can often be burdensome and unnecessary, points that we’ve elaborated at length when it comes to supplements, compounded medicines, and homeopathy because, broadly speaking, these medicines are overwhelmingly safe. PFAS are not overwhelmingly safe, so further restrictions on these chemicals to protect public health and the environment are justified.

Adding insult to injury, there are ample alternatives out there. Independent groups like ChemSec, a European non-governmental, industry-based organization, found that for the majority of PFAS uses, safer alternatives are available.

We need to keep turning the tide in the direction of a total PFAS ban. Every week, it seems, new information comes to light showing a new danger or health effect resulting from PFAS exposure. For example, one recent study found that PFAS may reduce the nutritional quality of breast milk.

While progress is unacceptably slow, the federal government is undoubtedly feeling the pressure from the grassroots to take action on PFAS. The EPA recently released a final rule preventing companies from resuming manufacture of PFAS chemicals designated “inactive” on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Substance Inventory. In essence, if a company wants to use any of these 329 “inactive” chemicals, they would be required to notify the EPA first and the agency would be required to conduct a review of health and safety information before the production of the chemical could resume.

You can bet that federal lawmakers are hearing the very same arguments being articulated by the Maine Chamber of Commerce by lobbyists from the chemical industry. We need to make sure that they are hearing from the grassroots, the real people who have to live with and breathe this chemical contamination.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and urge them to issue a ban on PFAS chemicals as a class. Please send your message immediately.

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