New rule comes after years of PFAS contamination of water supplies for millions of Americans
Health advocates praise this move while calling for transparency and requirements for the safety of new foams
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released a revised military specification (“mil spec”) for the purchase and use of firefighting foam free of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Revisions to the mil spec were required by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The new rule comes after years of PFAS contamination of water supplies for millions of Americans.
This new specification also impacts airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was directed by Congress to allow airports to use fluorine-free foams by October 2021 and issued a new alert today.
Health advocates praise this step forward while calling for transparency and requirements for the safety of new foams. In response to this news, health advocates from Toxic-Free Future, Safer States, and Clean Production Action released the following statements:
“In the 2020 military spending bill, Congress answered the concerns of communities nationwide that are suffering the devastating health effects of exposure to PFAS by ordering DOD to get these highly toxic chemicals out of the firefighting foams it uses. We applaud this progress and call on Congress and the DOD to give the public greater information about foams it will use in place of PFAS,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the federal policy program of Toxic-Free Future. “For the health and safety of our families and communities, we need to know what new chemicals will be used in the foams and need assurance that they are truly safer.”
“With the adoption of the new military specifications, states across the country that have adopted restrictions on AFFF firefighting foam will now be able to adopt PFAS-free foam for all uses,” said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “This is a clear win for clean drinking water and firefighters as well as an opportunity to switch to safer foams.”
“Commercial airports—like SeaTac in Washington state—have been waiting to use PFAS-free foams since the state banned PFAS foams in 2018,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “We are pleased this day has finally come after nearly five years, and now U.S. airports can join airports around the world that have already been effectively using PFAS-free foams.”
“PFAS-free alternatives are widely available on the market today. Thirty-five PFAS-free and environmentally preferred products from 11 manufacturers have already met the rigorous requirements of GreenScreen Certified. We urge DOD to adopt GreenScreen criteria and requirements, so that new foams will be safer for drinking water and firefighter health,” said Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action.
Background on PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment.
Toxic-Free Future released a 2022 study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant, with 72% testing positive for PFAS—including products from REI, Amazon, and others. REI members and advocates in more than a dozen cities recently rallied and delivered petitions signed by more than 150,000 people to REI stores nationwide demanding the company ban PFAS in its products. Since then, the number of people that have signed petitions to REI has grown to more than 150,000 REI customers and members. A 2021 peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future (TFF), the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. Toxic-Free Future’s investigative report revealed that a PFAS manufacturing facility is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health problems and climate change.
State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. Maine’s law requires product manufacturers to disclose the presence of PFAS. Eleven states (CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, ME, MN, NY, RI, VT, and WA) have enacted state bans on PFAS in food packaging. CO also adopted restrictions on oil and gas products and personal care products. Eleven states including CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS. With new legislation adopted in 2022, WA will be evaluating safer alternatives for PFAS in other products such as apparel, cleaners, coatings and floor finishes, firefighter turnout gear and others with a timeline of adopting restrictions by 2025. On textiles specifically, six states including CA, CO, ME, MD, NY and VT have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs, and aftermarket treatments and regulatory action is pending on these products and other home textiles (e.g. upholstery, bedding) in CA and WA. In addition, CO adopted restrictions on indoor and outdoor furniture.
Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to eliminate PFAS in key product sectors, according to the annual Retailer Report Card. Many outdoor and textiles brands have announced policies to reduce and eliminate PFAS. Patagonia has pledged to eliminate all PFAS across its entire product line by 2024. In July, Columbia sent a letter to environmental organizations committing to a goal of phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. Last year, Polartec announced it was eliminating PFAS in its DWR (durable water repellent) treatments across its line of performance fabrics. Lowe’s and The Home Depot are no longer selling indoor residential carpets or rugs with PFAS, and Lowe’s also committed to stop selling fabric protection sprays with PFAS. In addition, 25 retailers selling food or food packaging have announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at their more than 185,000 stores.
Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a national leader in environmental health research and advocacy. Through the power of science, education, and activism, Toxic-Free Future drives strong laws and corporate responsibility that protects the health of all people and the planet.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future.