This week the House passed S. 20, a bill that focuses on protecting Vermonters from the risks that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known widely as PFAS, and other toxic chemicals pose to our personal health as well as to that of the environment.

The bill targets five different areas of consumer products that are major sources of PFAS exposure and the ensuing environmental contamination and negative health effects. It bans PFAS from firefighting foam; it requires disclosure of use of PFAS in personal protective equipment; it bans PFAS and phthalates from food packaging as well as authorizes rule-making to potentially restrict harmful bisphenol chemicals; it bans PFAS from residential carpets and rugs and aftermarket treatments; and it bans PFAS from ski wax. Finally, it adds 3 additional PFAS chemicals to the “Chemicals of High Concern for Children,” and in doing so aligns the Department of Health’s list with our Agency of Natural Resources drinking water standards for monitoring PFAS.

For each of the consumer products listed above, the attorney general can request a certificate of compliance from a manufacturer. If a manufacturer is not in compliance, the attorney general can seek remedies through the existing Vermont Consumer Protection Act.

What is PFAS? It is a group of approximately 9,000 chemicals, mainly used in waterproofing and surfactant applications. While forms of PFAS have been in use since the mid-20th century, they have more recently been found to be associated with increased risks of cancer, as well as adverse health effects on the liver, endocrine system, immune system and fetal development. They are known as “forever chemicals” since they do not biodegrade in the environment and bioaccumulate within the body. PFAS is found in groundwater and drinking water across the state; it is found in the runoff (or leachate) from active and abandoned landfills in Vermont as well as in every wastewater treatment facility in Vermont.

Perhaps most concerning, PFAS can be found within the blood of almost everyone.

There’s no easy or inexpensive way to deal with these chemicals and prevent harm to the environment and human health once they’ve been released. That is why this bill moves upstream. It focuses on source reduction of these synthetic chemicals that have been intentionally added to products to avoid future contamination and focuses on the major PFAS-containing products.

Legislative Council clarified the impact of federal law and regulation as it impacts PFAS containing firefighting foam. The bill prohibits use of PFAS-containing foam, with staggered effective dates based on facilities. It prohibits the use of PFAS-containing foam in training or testing statewide. The effective date for federal facilities (Burlington International Airport and National Guard) set at October 2023. The Federal Aviation Administration has set a goal of transitioning to PFAS-free by October 2021, and the military by October 2023. If federal laws push back the date, they will have preemption over state law.

In reviewing and amending the unanimously Senate passed bill, the Human Services Committee took weeks of testimony from firefighters to canning manufacturers; from the UVM ski coach to the state toxicologist; from three different state agencies : Health, Natural Resources as well as Commerce and Economic Development; from a multitude of chemists as well as public health providers; from the National Guard and Vermont Military Poisons Coalition and from the Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business for Social Responsibility to name just a few.

By eliminating unnecessary PFAS toxins from commonly used products, we’re not only addressing the acute threat posed by these chemicals, but also the potential harm they may cause by exacerbating the harmful effects of a virus like COVID-19. This is a very important piece of legislation for Vermont now. It can protect our health, our environment and our ‘Vermont’ brand for commerce and tourism. Next steps for the bill are first to reconcile the small differences between the House and Senate passed versions and then it will be on its way to the Governor for his action.

Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate hearing from you and encourage you to reach out with your input, suggestions, questions or concerns at any time. apugh@leg.state.vt.us; 863-6705. The tentative date for adjournment this year has been set for May 22, which means that our next community conversation with your South Burlington legislators on Monday May 24 at 6:30 p.m. should be very informative.