Firefighting foams containing a class of chemicals linked to water pollution would face major new restrictions under a bill introduced in the Washington state House of Representatives.
Some polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl chemicals — known as PFAS — have turned up in state waterways and drinking-water wells, and surveys indicate they are present in the blood of most Americans. In humans, some of these chemicals pose health concerns that include elevated risks for kidney and testicular cancer.
House Bill 2793 under consideration by the House Environment Committee would prohibit, as of 2020, a manufacturer from selling firefighting foams containing these chemicals, as well as protective gear that contains the chemicals.
The bill includes an exception for certain facilities — such as military and civilian airports that risk aviation fires — where fire crews are required by federal law to have these foams on hand.
State lawmakers are considering the firefighting-foam bill amid heightened scrutiny of PFAS chemicals both nationally and in Washington state, where some have been found in drinking-water wells on Whidbey Island, Issaquah, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Airway Heights near Fairchild Air Force Base.
The concerns about these chemicals extend to firefighters, who have higher rates of cancer than the overall U.S. population, according to a joint study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the University of California, Davis.
In Washington and other states, many fire departments are switching to foams that don’t include PFAS chemicals. And, at a Tuesday afternoon hearing, Michael White, legislative liaison for the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, cited the cancer risk as he testified on behalf of the bill. “We would like to see them phased out,” he said.
An industry representative opposed the legislation, saying that PFAS chemicals that polluted state wells are no longer put into firefighting foams, and that newer forms of PFAS foams are safe with proper application.
Jessica Bowman, of FluroCouncil, said replacements don’t work as well, and that “banning the use of PFAS foams may leave fire departments without adequate protection.”
There also are concerns about some of the replacement chemicals for the older PFAS foams.
Barbara Morrissey, of the state Department of Health, said that some of the newer chemicals are highly soluble and could also end up in drinking water.
The House Committee on Tuesday also took testimony on a separate measure that would possibly end the use of PFAS in food packaging.
House Bill 2658 would end, by 2021, the sale of food packaging containing these chemicals, if the state Department of Ecology comes up with a safer alternative.
In Tuesday testimony, Erika Schreder, of Toxic-Free Future, said that manufacturers already are coming up with other options for items such as microwave popcorn and pizza containers.
“We are concerned about PFAS because they are extremely persistent.”