Washington State Nears Ban on Toxic Firefighting Foam (2)

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By Paul Shukovsky

Certain toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam could be banned under a Washington state bill that is likely to end up on the governor’s desk, Senate Majority Caucus Vice Chair Lisa Wellman (D) said Feb. 13.

Manufacturing, selling and distributing foams containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, chemicals would end July 1, 2020, under the proposed bill, which is scheduled for a public hearing Feb. 15 in the House. The bill passed the Senate Feb. 10 with a vote of 39-8 in a chamber where Democrats hold the majority by a single vote.

“It’s my sense that the fire-fighting foam bill will likely pass to the governor,” Wellman, who is a sponsor of the bill, told Bloomberg Environment. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

The measure contains an exemption for federally mandated foams, including under Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Firefighter Exposure

PFAS chemicals have been linked to a wide range of health problems including liver toxicity, hormone disruption, and tumors, according to a draft state Department of Health report.

That report is part of a Department of Ecology Chemical Action Plan project that is reviewing PFAS chemicals with the goal of developing public policy on the compounds, which have been found in drinking water in several locations around the state, according to Kara Steward, an ecology department manager.

“Foam use is a big deal for us at the fire training academy,” Chad Cross, assistant commander of the state’s Fire Training Academy, told Bloomberg Environment. “We have been using an alternative foam” that doesn’t contain PFAS.

Asked if rank-and-file firefighters or their associations have specifically flagged PFAS foam as problematic for health, he said, “In the fire service, cancer is a huge problem.” But the issue has not come up in regard to PFAS exposure, he added.

The bill that passed the Senate also contains a provision requiring manufacturers to provide written notice at the time of sale if firefighting personal protective gear, including clothing, contains PFAS compounds.

An industry spokesperson told Bloomberg Environment that the state should stop short of banning an “important fire safety tool” and instead adopt best management practices to protect the environment when using the foams.

“The ban that Washington state legislators are considering would remove firefighting foams that are uniquely effective at combatting certain types of flammable liquid fires,” Bryan Goodman, a spokesperson for the FluoroCouncil, told Bloomberg Environment in an email. “Such a ban would be shortsighted and unnecessary, particularly given that other options are available to protect the environment.”

The FluoroCouncil, which is administered by the American Chemistry Council, counts the Chemours Company LLC and Arkema France among its members.

Industry Involvement

A group of stakeholders, including manufacturer representatives, has been at the table in developing the plan, Steward told Bloomberg Environment.

That involvement, Wellman said, means the industry has been put on notice that the state is aware of drinking water contamination and other problems with the toxic compounds. Regardless of what happens with the bills, the Department of Ecology is addressing these issues, she added.

Food Packaging in Play

Wellman is less optimistic about a pair of bills moving both chambers that would study and conditionally restrict the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging as early as 2022.

The bill, which she is sponsoring, has yet to have a floor vote just one day before a cutoff deadline that would mean the measure is dead.

The other bill, which passed Feb. 13 by a margin of 56-41, would restrict PFAS in food packaging as early as 2022. Wellman questioned whether the Senate would have time to pass it.

Goodman of the FluoroCouncil said that certain types of fluorinated chemicals are used to prevent oil and grease from seeping through food packaging such as popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and disposable plates.

“This particular bill is overly broad and would restrict the use of substances that regulators have determined do not present a risk to human health and the environment,” he said.

Goodman said lawmakers should wait for the results of a plan under development by the Washington State Departments of Ecology and Health before considering any legislation.

(Updates with comments from Goodman)

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