Time to eliminate the use of PFAS in consumer products, experts tell legislators

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BOSTON — Public health, community, academic, and environmental leaders called on lawmakers to ban the use of harmful PFAS chemicals in common consumer products at a State House hearing Tuesday. Testifying before the Joint Committee on Public Health, the experts  called for swift passage of  An Act Restricting Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Consumer Products to Protect our Health, S.1387/ H.2350 filed by state Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Jack Lewis. The act would ban toxic PFAS from carpets, rugs, and furniture textiles, and from aftermarket sprays applied to these products. It also bans PFAS in personal care products and cookware. 

“Toxic PFAS chemicals are shockingly pervasive in our environment and tragically, in most people. They cause serious health problems and never break down. My bill will turn off the tap as we must — stopping the flow of more PFAS into our lives so we can work on clean up, mitigation, and protecting our health,” said Senator Jo Comerford, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of more than 9,000 chemicals that make products stain-resistant, water-proof and non-stick.  Medical studies–and epidemiological evidence–link PFAS to a wide array of health problems, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, and immunosuppression.  Additionally, people with high levels of PFAS in their blood form fewer antibodies in response to vaccines and are less able to fight off infection.

“Consumers should be able to trust that the carpets in our homes, the make-up we put on our skin, or the pans we use to cook our meals aren’t full of toxic chemicals,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director, MASSPIRG. “Alternatives to PFAS-treated products already exist. But even if they didn’t, is the threat of less shiny makeup or carpet stains worth the risk of cancer?” 

“Banning PFAS is an important step in protecting our friends, families, and neighbors from this dangerous chemical,” said Representative Jack Lewis, the chief House sponsor of the bill. “Under the leadership of the PFAS Task Force and Public Health Committee, I am confident we will make important progress in protecting our communities from the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals.”

According to Dr. Laurel Schaider, a senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute who provided scientific testimony at the hearing, “Exposure to PFAS can have lasting impacts on people’s health. And the more we learn about these chemicals, the more we see health effects at lower levels of exposure. For example, studies show PFOA can alter mammary gland development at very low levels. Changes in breast development could have significant long-term implications for breastfeeding and breast cancer. Because PFAS are so persistent, their harmful effects have the potential to cause harm for generations.”

As of May, Massachusetts has tested 242 public water systems and found that 50 exceeded the new state guidelines for PFAs in public drinking water systems. An additional 1,300 public water systems in the Commonwealth have not yet been assessed under the new standard.

A new report released last week found evidence of PFAS in more than half of the 231 cosmetics tested in the US and Canada.

At least 11 states have banned some uses of PFAS chemicals.

On May 18, Vermont  passed a ban on PFAS in carpets and rugs, and California and Washington State are in the process of banning PFAS in carpets and rugs and in aftermarket sprays applied to carpets and textiles.

“Synthetic fluorinated petrochemicals are the most serious toxic challenge we are facing,” according to Clint Richmond, Massachusetts Sierra Club. “These ‘forever chemicals’ can harm us and the environment even in infinitesimal quantities yet Federal regulation remains lacking. Therefore states must act now to protect their residents.”

“We can’t stop water contamination if we keep producing and using PFAS in vast quantities,” said Laura Spark, Senior Policy Advocate at Clean Water Action, “Every one of the products in this bill can easily be made without toxic PFAS.  So, why would we choose to risk our health by continuing to make everyday items like dental floss with toxic chemicals that hurt us and will never go away?”

The following organizations testified in support of the An Act Restricting Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Consumer Products to Protect our Health, S.1387/ H.2350 :

Built Environment Plus, Circle Furniture, Clean Water Action, Community Action Works, Conservation Law Foundation, Fashion Forward, Green Newton, MASSPIRG, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Maharam, Mamavation,  Nantucket PFAS Action Group, Northeastern Social Sciences Environmental Health Research Institute, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Olive Design, Public Health Advocacy Institute/Center for Public Health Litigation, Seaside Sustainability, Sustainable Furnishings Council.