Olympia, WA—Yesterday, the Washington State House of Representatives kicked off the 2020 legislative session by hearing a bill in the Environment and Energy Committee to take more action on toxic PFAS in firefighting foam.
In 2018, Washington State led the nation in tackling the PFAS contamination crisis by passing laws to phase-out the use of PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products. Colorado, New Hampshire, and New York followed suit, enacting similar laws last year to phase-out PFAS in firefighting foam. While Washington’s law banned the sale of firefighting foams containing PFAS for many uses, it exempted some major users of PFAS foams: airports, chemical plants, and oil facilities.
HB 2265, sponsored by Representative Beth Doglio (D-Olympia), would eliminate the exemption for chemical plants, refineries, oil facilities and airports. During yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Doglio introduced the legislation stating,“This bill simply puts all users on a timeline for phasing out PFAS foams and is important to protect public health, firefighter health, drinking water supplies, and other water bodies including Puget Sound… We need all users of PFAS on a very clear timeline for phase-out if we are going to solve this PFAS contamination crisis.”
This bill is needed to protect public health and resources, is in line with the global trend to phase-out ALL uses of PFAS, and moves users toward safer, PFAS-free foams already utilized around the world.
In response to nationwide outcry over drinking water contamination and firefighter health impacts from exposure to these chemicals, additional states are looking to ban PFAS in products and firefighting foam, and in the past two years Congress passed laws to phase out the military’s use of PFAS in firefighting foam by 2024 and to direct the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the use of PFAS-free foams at airports by 2021. HB 2265 is just another step in the right direction.
The public health effects of PFAS foam are well known. Speaking in support of HB 2265 at a public hearing yesterday, Toxic-Free Future’s science director Erika Schreder said, “It is well-established that the use of PFAS in firefighting foam presents a grave risk to the safety of our drinking water… Washington can continue to be a leader by ensuring the remaining uses of PFAS-containing foam are phased out on an urgent timeline.”
PFAS chemicals, which have been widely used in firefighting foams and other products, have contaminated drinking water sources for millions of Americans across the nation and in Washington State. These highly persistent chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and harm to the immune system.
The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters (WSCFF) and Washington Fire Chiefs support the legislation, which will reduce firefighter exposure to PFAS.
Legislative Liasion for WSCFF, A.J. Johnson, testified, “Cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty death for firefighters. Avoiding unnecessary exposures to chemicals that can lead to cancer is a critical prevention strategy.”
In addition to the health risks for firefighters, PFAS-containing foam use has resulted in significant cleanup costs. In Washington State, PFAS contamination in Issaquah, Airway Heights, Fort Lewis, and Coupeville is costing millions of dollars for cleanup and safe drinking water. Costs will continue to increase across the state as PFAS come under increased scrutiny and regulation. Phasing them out now and preventing contamination makes the most sense.
Bans being put in place and attention on the dangers of PFAS in firefighting foams has led to innovation in the market to develop safer PFAS-free foams. PFAS-free foams are now widely available and used in many facilities around the world—from oil refineries to chemical plants and airports.
Cheri Peele with Clean Production Action explained, “Due to concerns about PFAS, there is an increasing demand around the world for PFAS-free firefighting foam. To meet [that] growing demand for PFAS-free foam, all of the major manufacturers of foams containing PFAS also produce PFAS-free foams, and they are continuing to develop new PFAS-free products.”
HB 2265 will finish the job started two years ago and put all facilities on a timeline for phasing out PFAS foams—protecting the safety of our drinking water, other water bodies and the health of firefighters.
Other organizations signing in support at the hearing included: Washington Fire Chiefs, Washington State Firefighters’ Association, Port of Seattle, City of Issaquah, Tacoma Public Utilities, Washington Association of Counties, and Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials.