Bills would continue efforts to reduce PFAS exposure

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, February 24th, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard two promising bills that would help to limit the exposure of Minnesotans to PFAS, a class of “forever chemicals” that don’t break down naturally in the environment and have a troubling track record of causing health problems. These bills are part of a continuation of bipartisan legislative efforts to protect Minnesotans from the types of PFAS linked to increased risk of various medical conditions.

PFAS chemicals have become disturbingly common in our environment, in our homes, and in our bodies. Most people in the United States have at least some level of PFOS, a PFAS subcategory, in their blood, though thankfully concentrations have decreased over time. Exposure to these substances, common in products like anti-stick cookware, firefighting foam, and stain repellants, can contribute to cancers, kidney disease, ADHD, and other life changing conditions.

The eastern Twin Cities Metro area around Oakdale and Cottage Grove is an example of a community harmed by heightened PFAS in their groundwater from 3M’s manufacturing and waste sites. Other communities like Bemidji have experienced similar problems, costly to municipal budgets and public health. As we wrote last June, the Minnesota Department of Health has advised Minnesotans to be more careful about eating panfish due to bioaccumulation of PFOS in those species.

Fortunately, many lawmakers are recognizing these dangers and supporting action to reduce them. Last year, the Legislature passed a ban on PFAS in food packaging. And as the regulatory winds have changed, companies have sought alternatives to PFAS. But the new bills at the Capitol this year would guarantee that Minnesotans are protected from PFAS in key sources.

In Thursday’s hearing, the Environment Committee discussed HF 3571, which would ban PFAS from all new juvenile products – items intended for infants and young children like cribs, diapers, and high chairs. As of this writing, that bill does not yet have a Senate companion. Committee members also covered HF 3180/SF 3307, which would ban PFAS in home furnishing like carpets and upholstery. Both bills will next be considered by the House Commerce Committee.

An additional bill on its way to the Commerce Committee, HF 2952/SF 3441, would ban the use of PFAS in ski wax, one of the most visible paths for these chemicals to directly enter the environment. As MEP’s Andrew Slade said on Twitter, “Old BAD idea: smear toxic PFAS onto cross country skis of our state’s youth so they can go a tiny bit faster in races… New GREAT idea: ban PFAS in ski wax in MN.”

The bipartisan committee votes to move PFAS legislation forward, and the fact that a food packaging ban has already been enacted, are positive signs for the path of these bills. Opponents aligned with chemical industry groups have tried to muddy the waters by suggesting that a state ban would create regulatory confusion, and these objections may create obstacles at the Capitol. But the problems suffered by places like Oakdale and Bemidji should show us that Minnesotans can’t wait around for a corporate-friendly solution – we need to cut off the flow of PFAS into our waters, lands, and bodies as quickly as possible.

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