California Law Bans Toxic PFAS From Firefighting Foam

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For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today, California Gov. Gavin Newson signed into law a measure to ban the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS from firefighting foams. PFAS-based firefighting foams – known as aqueous film-fighting foam, or AFFF –are among the most significant sources of PFAS water contamination.

Authored by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), the law bans the manufacture, sale and use of firefighting foam containing PFAS from use in most applications by January 1, 2022.

The state is required to track sales and keep the public informed of the ban. Use in training classes also are barred, and manufacturers have to disclose to buyers whether firefighting gear contains the compounds. The bill also restricts the disposal of unused foams.

Violations are subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 for a first violation and $10,000 for each subsequent violation.

“This year has made abundantly clear the crucial work of our heroic firefighters,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG’s director of government affairs for California. “Toxic PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams put their health at risk for cancer and other serious health issues. We thank Gov. Newsom for protecting them from this exposure by signing this bill into law, and thank Sen. Allen for authoring it.”

 “At least 7.5 million Californians have PFAS in their drinking water supplies, and the historic use of PFAS-based firefighting foams is one of the sources of this contamination,” Allayaud said. Given that the state is in the process of testing its drinking water sources for PFAS, the number is likely much higher.

Even very low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver or thyroid disease and other health problems. PFAS do not break down in the environment, spread quickly and bioaccumulate. All of the detections in California water systems’ sources exceeded 1 part per trillion, or ppt, the safe level recommended by the best independent studies and endorsed by EWG.

In 2019, a white paper by an international team of experts at the International Pollutants Elimination Network, or IPEN, found “unequivocal evidence” that firefighters using foams made with PFAS had “unacceptably” high levels of two types of PFAS in their blood.

“We ask our brave firefighters day in and day out to put their lives at risk for our safety,” said Sen. Allen. “It’s only right to put an end to further jeopardizing their health by continuing their exposure to these harmful chemicals. There are better alternatives out there and now we can begin moving toward those better alternatives. I’m grateful to the governor for prioritizing the health of our state’s firefighters and keeping our drinking water clean.”

Viable non-PFAS alternatives to AFFF are already on the market and are used all over the world. As of April 2019, there were more than 100 fluorine-free foams available from 24 manufacturers. These fluorine-free foams meet internationally accepted certifications and approvals, including the International Civil Aviation Organization Level B, an internal oil industry standard known as LASTFIRE, and the International Maritime Organization MSC.1/Circ. 1312.

In December, Congress made the historic decision to phase out PFAS in military firefighting foams by 2024. In 2018, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to change its rules so that airports could also switch to PFAS-free foams.

Increasingly, states aren’t waiting that long to move to safer and effective alternatives. California joins Colorado, New Hampshire, New York and Washington to ban all PFAS in firefighting foam, with only limited exceptions, and require reporting of the presence of all PFAS in firefighting gear. Legislatures in Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont are also considering similar bans.

“Drinking water for almost one in five Californians is contaminated with toxic PFAS,” said Allayaud. “Gov. Newsom understands it’s imperative that we do everything to limit this contamination and reduce the health risks of exposure.”

This legislation was co-sponsored by EWG, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the California Professional Firefighters Association, Clean Water Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit https://www.ewg.org/pfaschemicals/