CALIFORNIA –The California state legislature passed a bill that will phase out and ultimately ban the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] in firefighting foam.
The bill, which passed in the state senate on Aug. 26, will phase out the chemicals from its common use in firefighting foams by fire departments, for fire training, airports, by oil and chemical refineries and the military. The chemicals must be phased out and replaced by alternatives. Municipal fire departments have until Jan. 1, 2022 to make the transition; chemical plants and airports have until 2024; oil refineries have until 2028. Several other states have passed similar legislation.
The chemicals were invented in the early 1940s and but their productions has since mostly been halted in the United States according to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]. The chemicals can be found in food and packaging, commercial household products and in the workplace. The chemicals have seeped into drinking water systems throughout the country, notably in California in recent years, and can have extremely harmful effects on humans, according to the EPA, including cancer, low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, kidney and liver damage and thyroid hormone disruption.
The chemicals, which do not break down naturally in nature, are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” Advocates for the bill also voiced their concern for the firefighters who are in close contact with PFAS during fire season.
“The use of PFAS in firefighting foams poses an unacceptable additional health risk to our firefighters and especially those working at airports and federal installations,” said Brian K. Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters. “We know there are alternatives that do not pose the same exposure risk or potentially devastating public health effects. It is time to phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foams.”
“We’re finding PFAS in drinking water sources throughout California, and PFAS firefighting foam is a major contributor”, said Andria Ventura of Clean Water Action, when the bill was first introduced in February. “In a state prone to severe drought and deadly fires, we cannot continue to put water sources and our heroic fire fighters at continued risk by using these unnecessary foams any longer.”