Guest Blog: Inslee signs nation-leading bill to end exemptions for biggest users of PFAS in firefighting foam

March 18, 2020

Alexa Woodard

Contacts: Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future – 206-200-2824; Jaime Smith, Grit City Strategy & Communications (on behalf of TFF) – 253-334-5670

(Olympia, WA) – Gov. Jay Inslee today signed legislation that puts Washington State at the forefront of the effort to phase out PFAS in firefighting foam. The state Legislature in 2018 passed a first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of PFAS-containing firefighting foam for most uses, but exempted some of the biggest contributors such as oil facilities, chemical plants and airports. The Safer Firefighting Foam Act signed today eliminates those exemptions and creates the strongest state ban in the country.

“This bill builds off the big step we took in 2018 and makes clear that Washington puts the health of our people first,” Inslee said. “This year’s bill tackles the largest sources of PFAS in firefighting foam with a reasonable, commonsense approach. It will help protect the drinking water for thousands of Washingtonians and the health of Washington’s firefighters.”

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are extremely persistent toxic chemicals added to many products. Among them are firefighting foams used for oil-based fires. Because PFAS don’t break down, they are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” Airports are among the largest users of PFAS firefighting foam, followed by oil facilities and chemical plants. Costly clean-up efforts are underway in communities such as Issaquah, Airway Heights, Fort Lewis and Coupeville.

PFAS are linked to serious health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, hormone disruption, liver toxicity, and harm to the immune system. Cancer is the leading cause of in-line duty death for firefighters.

The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, Washington Fire Chiefs and Washington State Firefighters’ Association were among the organizations supporting the ban on PFAS in firefighting foam.

“Nobody wants to hear the devastating news that they have cancer, but for firefighters, that’s the most likely line-of-duty cause of death,” said AJ Johnson, Legislative Liaison for the WSCFF. “PFAS are polluting our water and poisoning firefighters. Safer alternatives are available.” 

“PFAS is a forever chemical that is very difficult to get rid of, and we’ve been pumping it into our environment for decades. This bill represents an important step to remove this chemical from our state completely,” said Rep. Beth Doglio (D-Olympia), sponsor of the bill. “I’m so thankful for all of the stakeholders, including our firefighters, who helped make this happen.”

“Phasing out this foam will protect the health of firefighters, who regularly use this foam to suppress fires, as well as the broader population exposed to buildup in the environment,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill and a firefighter. “This is especially important for pregnant women and young children, as these chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system and impede fetal development.”

Other organizations who testified in support of the bill this session included the Port of Seattle, City of Issaquah, Tacoma Public Utilities, Washington Association of Counties, and Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials.

“This bill is possible because so many of our local partners, firefighters, legislators and Gov. Inslee are committed to putting the health of people first and turning the tap off toxic PFAS,” said Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future. “We know safer alternatives are available and we don’t have to choose between safety and health. Washington state is truly helping lead the way.”

###

Toxic-Free Future is a statewide nonprofit organization using science and advocacy to win strong health protections for people and the environment. Toxicfreefuture.org and @ToxFreeFuture