May 22, 2021 | By Rep. Theresa Wood
Recently, the House passed S.20, an act related to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and other chemicals of concern to consumer products.
You may have heard of these chemicals more often called PFAS, especially when referring to Bennington groundwater contamination from a chemical plant. The cost to people’s health and property as a result of this pollution has been high and the effects are still noticeable.
However, exposure to these toxic chemicals is not just a Bennington problem. PFAS chemicals have been shown to have adverse effects on the liver, endocrine system, and immune system. They have also been shown to have adverse health effects on the development of embryos and fetuses, and increase the risk of cancer. We now know that PFASs have been found at levels above our statewide drinking water standard, from the Winooski River to the Killington Mountains and in more than 100 public water supplies, private wells of drinking water, groundwater and surface water. . We have found high levels of PFAS in the runoff (or leachate) of our landfills, both active and abandoned, and in the water of our wastewater treatment plants, regardless of whether or not they accept this leachate. This number is not limited to Vermont, as PFAS can be found in the blood of almost everyone in the United States.
The defining characteristic of PFAS chemicals, a carbon chain surrounded by fluorine, is its resistance to any type of failure. Known as “chemicals forever,” they do not biodegrade, but remain in contaminated areas for decades. They can also build up inside our bodies over time, affecting various organs as they circulate through our blood. In fact, it is rare to find an emerging environmental health problem so universal that it contaminates both the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. It is rare to find a substance so ubiquitous, so persistent, and so unknown to the general public.
Meanwhile, PFAS chemicals continue to be manufactured in our country every day.
A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Science found more than 1,400 different types of PFAS chemicals in more than 200 consumer products. You do not need to live in a contaminated area to be exposed to PFAS. You can consume PFAS simply by eating a meal or by contacting the furniture in your home. That said, some Vermonts have a higher risk of exposure than others, including firefighters, infants, and even skiers.
In an effort to protect people’s health, S.20 addresses four types of consumer products: fire extinguisher foam and personal fire protection equipment, food packaging, carpets and rugs and ski wax . It also adds PFAS chemicals to the state’s high-concern chemicals list. It is difficult to understand how our exposure to these chemicals is of concern to both our health care system and human well-being.
Instead of limiting our actions and efforts to these downstream issues, S.20 addresses this issue at the manufacturer level. This legislation prevents these toxins from further polluting our environment and accumulating in our body. My committee received the testimony of the president of the Vermont Professional Fire Department, an organization representing 250 paid union firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics from our state. They declared their support and gratitude for S.20, recognizing that firefighters have a significantly higher risk of cancer than the general population. The witness cited a 2020 report from the International Fire Association that, since 2002, 61% of deaths of actively working firefighters were caused by cancer and that in 2016, 70% of deaths from firefighters were linked to cancer.
The bill also affects two other chemicals of concern in addition to PFAS within food packaging: bisphenols and phthalates. A manufacturer, supplier or distributor shall not manufacture, sell, offer for sale, distribute or sell to use in this state a package of foods to which PFAS have been intentionally added and which are present in any quantity. Although Vermont banned the use of certain bisphenols (BPA) in baby food and bottles in 2010, it is still widely used as an epoxy resin in the manufacture of food packaging. Studies on BPA have shown changes in endocrine and cerebral development in animals. Epidemiology studies have found a positive association with BPA levels and obesity levels.
The bill also includes water-resistant treatments and carpets and rugs that are defined as treatments for textile and leather consumer products used in residential environments that have been treated during the manufacturing process for resistance. to stains, oil and water. The bill prohibits the manufacture or sale in Vermont of new carpets or residential carpets containing PFAS.
Why is it important that we address the use of PFAS on carpets and rugs? They are simply the most risky routes of exposure for babies and young children, who crawl and play on carpets and rugs at home. It is especially in these early stages of development that we must protect the health and safety of our children from toxins. In addition, a test report from waste sources in the state of Vermont found that carpets were one of the products with the highest concentrations of PFAS that were within our waste stream. This not only suggests that carpets and rugs are a major concern for our babies, but it also means that they are one of the worst offenders of PFAS chemical filtration from our landfills.
Then the use of fluoridated ski wax poses a risk of exposure for skiers. Our committee heard in testimony that a proper safe application of any ski wax requires a respirator, due to the iron, brushed and brushed ski wax that can create smoke or other particles in the air. In addition, several studies, including one published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, indicate that PFAS enters snow and the surrounding environment at significant levels through the fluoride ski wax runoff. Both the International Ski Federation and the American Ski and Surfing Association are expected to ban PFAS wax.
Finally, the bill adds three PFAS chemicals to the list of chemicals the Department of Health is concerned about for children, a list that manufacturers must report to the Department of Health on the use of children’s products.
This bill passed the House and Senate unanimously by roll call and on May 18, Gov. Phil Scott signed it into law.