What are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of synthetic chemicals often used for their nonstick and grease- and water-resistant properties. PFAS contamination in drinking water and consumer products accumulates in humans and is linked to several health concerns. Often, PFAS are referred to as forever chemicals.
Why does PFAS matter?
Only a small percentage of over 5,000 PFAS chemical variations have been tested for toxicity. Those tested have been linked to health conditions including low birth weights, immune system impairments, decreased fertility, and increased risk of some cancers. In 2006 some major US manufacturers agreed to phase out the use of these chemicals, but many consumer goods still contain PFAS.
SOME ITEMS THAT STILL CONTAIN PFAS:
Stain-resistant furniture and carpet
Personal care products
PFAS can be found in all areas of our lives. Most often, people consume PFAS in our water and food. Exposure can also occur by simply using products containing the chemicals. When PFAS are present in cooking they leach out into our food.
When PFAS are spilled or released onto the land, the chemicals easily travel into groundwater. Lakes and rivers in the watershed become contaminated, as do fish and wildlife. PFAS in groundwater then impact municipal drinking water supplies. And PFAS contamination within our agricultural sector is an emerging issue.
There is a growing awareness that under-resourced communities are more likely to live close to PFAS contamination sites. Public health officials worry that the immunity response may be compromised in populations with high PFAS levels, limiting the effectiveness of vaccines.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has raised concerns about PFAS and is moving toward establishing drinking water standards for PFAS. This is an essential step in protecting the health of communities across the country by safeguarding our drinking water from forever chemicals. It’s crucial that Minnesota continue to remove PFAS from consumer products to help municipalities meet water quality standards.
Learn more about these toxics at PFAS 101 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
PFAS Initiatives in Minnesota
This session, the Minnesota Legislature has introduced bills that would protect our families from forever chemicals. Each of the provisions below is currently included in either the House Climate and Energy Omnibus or Senate Energy, Utilities, Environment, and Climate Finance Omnibus.
Banning Non-Essential Uses
A bill supported by Senator Kelly Morrison and Representative Jeff Brand would phase out PFAS in consumer products by prohibiting the sale of everyday products containing PFAS, such as cookware, dental floss, cosmetics, cleaning products, and many others.
Prohibition of PFAS in Firefighter Foam
Fire-repellent foam might be good for containing a fire, but the PFAS within the foam seeps into the environment and groundwater. Not only does foam contaminate our water, but it also exposes firefighters to dangerously high chemical levels. A bill championed by Senator Judy Seeberger and Representative Matt Norris would prohibit the use of firefighting foam with PFAS.
Reporting PFAS in Products
Many consumers are unaware of PFAS contamination in products. A bill was introduced by Senator Heather Gustafson and Representative Athena Hollins that would require a PFAS notice on products to inform consumers of the risk of exposure. This report would include a brief description of the product and the amount and function served by PFAS in the product.
Removing PFAS from Children's Products
PFAS causes liver and immune system damage, congenital disabilities, and delayed development in children. Senator Erin Maye Quade and Representative Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn sponsored a bill that would ban the use of PFAS in children’s products such as booster seats, bassinets, playmats, cribs, strollers, and many other products. Measures must be taken to protect Minnesota’s children from dangerous forever chemicals.
Currently, all these bills have been introduced in the Senate and House Omnibus bills. However, support is still needed to see them cross the finish line this session.
In June of 2021, the Minnesota Legislature passed a ban on the intentional use of PFAS in food packaging. The bill bans the manufacture, distribution, and sale of food packaging containing PFAS chemicals beginning in 2024.
The MPCA released a PFAS Blueprint to identify opportunities and legislative actions to manage PFAS in our environment and protect our communities. Conservation Minnesota supports the creation of legislation to define PFAS as a hazardous substance under the state superfund law. Preventing PFAS from entering landfills and wastewater treatment plants is cheaper and more effective than trying to clean them up after they are in the environment and our bodies. We also encourage the creation of a water-quality standard for PFAS.