PFAS Ban Passed By Maryland Senate With Support From State Firefighters Concerned About AFFF Exposures
Inspired by a veteran firefighter’s death following exposure to toxic chemicals in firefighting foam, the Maryland Senate voted this week to ban the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), as well as other consumer products and packaging materials.
The bill to ban PFAS still needs to pass the Maryland House of Delegates and be signed into law by the governor. It is named the George Walter Taylor Act, after a Maryland firefighter who died of cancer believed to be linked to exposures to AFFF; which contains PFAS chemicals and is widely used to combat petroleum fires.
PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since the chemicals are known to persist and build up in the environment, leading to the nickname “forever chemicals”, a myriad of adverse health effects have been linked to exposure, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
While the chemicals are found in a wide variety of products, including some food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products, most of the concerns have focused on high volumes of the PFAS chemicals that entered drinking water supplies from aqueous film-forming foams widely used near airports, military bases and firefighting training centers in recent decades.
Although safer alternatives were available to fight fuel based fires without PFAS chemicals, versions of the firefighting foam were sold for decades by 3M Company and other companies, who now face a growing number of AFFF exposure lawsuits brought by firefighters diagnosed with cancer and others regularly exposed to contaminated drinking water.
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The bill calling for a PFAS ban passed the Maryland Senate unanimously with bipartisan support and no debate. It was supported by the Maryland Professional Firefighters Association, who say cancer has replaced heart problems as the leading cause of death in firefighters for the last 20 years, pointing to PFAS exposure as the cause of that high cancer rate.
The bill would prohibit the use, manufacture, sale or distribution of Class B firefighting foam, which includes PFAS chemicals, in the state of Maryland. It would place the same prohibitions on rugs and carpets and food packaging designed for direct food contact. The ban would go into effect on January 1, 2024.
Maryland joins a growing number of states who are taking action against PFAS, claiming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving too slowly to put adequate regulations in place.
In July, Maine put in place a ban on PFAS which will go into effect by 2030. In addition to Maine, New York set guidelines last January which set limits on allowable concentrations on some PFAS chemicals. Additionally, also in July, two U.S. Senators introduced a bill which would ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics.
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