PFAS crisis sparks bipartisan momentum
November 17, 2022
There is reason to hope that we can see beyond the political divisions that were evident on election day 2022 and work together to address common threats. One issue, in particular, has consistently drawn bipartisan attention from state legislators across the country — the need to address toxic PFAS chemicals that are contaminating communities and drinking water.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are found in cookware, cosmetics, food packaging, apparel, carpets, and firefighting foams, among thousands of other products. PFAS are also known as “forever chemicals” because they are not known to break down in the environment. PFAS exposures are linked to serious health concerns such as cancer, hormone disruption, immune system suppression, decreased vaccine response, and reproductive problems. PFAS chemicals are so widespread that they’re found in the blood of 97% of Americans.
PFAS pollution is widespread, being found in every state in the country, in both rural and urban areas. State leaders on both sides of the aisle have been stepping up to protect drinking water, provide resources for cleanup and perhaps most importantly, turn off the tap and prevent unnecessary uses of these toxic chemicals. They are responding to concerns from firefighters, farmers, military families, factory workers, tribal members, and community leaders.
In 2022 so far, 14 states have adopted 32 policies to address the PFAS crisis, and the overwhelming majority of these had bipartisan support. As Rep. Toby Overdorf (R-Stuart), a co-sponsor of Florida’s Cleanup of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances Act of 2022 said during floor debate, “These are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster…If we do not deal with those things now, then we really face some big issues in the future.”
Earlier this year, Maine adopted a policy with bipartisan support that bans the agricultural spreading of sludge. Sludge has been the source of widespread PFAS contamination, forcing family farms to shut down and poisoning the drinking water wells of entire communities. Senator Rick Bennet (R-Oxford), a co-sponsor of the bill, stated at the time of the bill’s passage, “Every day we are hearing new stories about the devastating impacts of PFAS contamination on our farmland, our rural communities, and, most recently, our waterways. We must do all that we can to stop further contamination and limit exposure to these toxic chemicals.”
The bipartisan momentum is happening upstream as states work to prevent PFAS pollution. For example, Colorado adopted a groundbreaking bill banning PFAS in eight product categories, including in oil and gas production and personal care products. State Rep. Lisa Cutter (D), who co-sponsored the policy, stated, “We know that PFAS pose a significant threat to the health of our environment and our people so acting to address this is a moral imperative”. And State Rep. Mary Bradfield (R), who co-sponsored the same bill, said she was moved to act as three water districts in her community struggled with PFAS contamination.
The bipartisan support we see in the states for protecting communities from PFAS is also beginning to be seen federally. Legislation such as the Keep Food Containers Safe From PFAS Act, the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and the Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act have all garnered bipartisan support.
Having strong common agreement amongst decision-makers, regardless of political orientation, on the need to address the PFAS crisis is exactly what will lead us to a future where people and the environment are protected from these toxic “forever chemicals.” PFAS is anticipated to continue to be a major policy theme in 2023.