Washington State progresses Bill to ban PFAS used in AFFF and in personal protective equipment

Published:  13 February, 2018

If the Bill passes both chambers of the legislature, Washington would become the first US state to restrict the sale of fire-fighting foams with PFAS.

Titled, ‘An act relating to reducing the use of certain toxic chemicals in firefighting activities’, State Senate Bill 6413 aims to reduce the use of certain toxic chemicals in firefighting activities.

If the Bill passes its next hearing at the House of Representatives, it will prohibit the sale, manufacture, and distribution of fire-fighting foam that has perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) intentionally added.

The Bill wants to prohibit the manufacture, sale and distribution of Class B firefighting foam that has PFAS chemical intentionally added, from July 1, 2020. The prohibition does not apply to the sale or use of Class B firefighting foam required by federal law for aircraft rescue and firefighting.

A manufacturer of Class B firefighting foam is required to provide written notice to persons selling the manufacturer's products no less than one year prior to the prohibition. A manufacturer of Class B fire-fighting foam must recall and reimburse the retailer or any purchaser for the product.

The Bill also requires sellers of fire-fighting personal protective equipment (PPE) containing PFAS, to notify purchasers of the equipment by July 1, 2018, and makes a violation of the act subject to a civil penalty of US$5,000 for a first offense and up to US$10,000 for subsequent violations. The person or manufacturer selling fire-fighting PPE and the purchaser must keep the notice on file for at least three years.

PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals that are not found naturally in the environment. Molecules in all PFAS chemicals contain carbon and fluorine atoms and some also include oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur or nitrogen atoms. PFAS chemical molecules are differentiated from each other by chain length, or the number of carbon atoms, in the molecule.

PFAS chemicals have been widely used to make products stain-resistant, waterproof and non-stick. PFAS chemicals have been used in products that keep food from sticking to cookware; make upholstered furniture, carpets, and clothing resistant to soil, stains, and water; make shoes, clothes and mattresses more waterproof; keep food packaging from sticking to food; and help fight fires at airfields and other places where petroleum-product-based fires are a risk.

According the US Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body.

The Department of Ecology (Ecology) states that the toxicity of PFAS compounds varies. Studies in animals show that exposure to some PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood and exposure may be linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

PFAS-based class B firefighting foams have been used since the 1970s for vapour suppression, firefighting, and firefighting training at airports, refineries, bulk storage terminals and other facilities handling large volumes of flammable liquid petroleum or natural gas. PFAS chemicals are used in fire foam products because of their ability to produce a fast spreading foam. Potential sources of PFAS contamination related to fire-fighting foam use are found in Washington State airports, military sites, fire training centres, where foam has been used to extinguish petroleum fires.

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