Vermont Senate Advances Bill to Ban Toxic PFAS Chemicals

Today, the Vermont Senate gave initial approval to legislation (S.20) to ban PFAS and other toxic chemicals from certain products. The bill is supported by firefighters, business groups, educators, public health and children’s advocates, and environmental groups. The bill will be up for its final Senate vote tomorrow, before being sent to the House for their consideration.

“The number one job of state leaders right now is to do all we can to protect the health of Vermonters,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, Chair of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation. “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.”

Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters, noted: “S.20 takes important steps to turn off the tap of more toxic chemicals – particularly PFAS – coming into Vermont, which harm our people and contaminate our environment. During our current pandemic, we’re pleased the Senate took these reasonable steps to better protect Vermonters’ health.”

PFAS chemicals are linked to harmful health impacts including high blood pressure, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancers, and suppressed immune system function. To make matters worse, PFAS contamination might worsen the impacts of Covid-19, according to recent scientific studies. Harm to the immune system due to PFAS exposure has broad ranging effects, from reduced ability to fight off viral infections to reduced responsiveness to vaccines. 

Bradley Reed, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont, noted: “Firefighters are more likely than the general public to be diagnosed with cancer and even more likely to die from cancer. Our members are crawling into a toxic soup of smoke, superheated gases, carcinogenic toxins, asphyxiants and chemicals that most of us are unable to pronounce. By removing toxic PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam. S.20 will help reduce the amount of carcinogenic chemicals our firefighters are exposed to.”

Despite the harm they can cause, PFAS chemicals continue to be used in a variety of products imported into Vermont, exposing the people who use those products. PFAS chemicals present further threats when those items are disposed of and chemicals leach into our water. S.20 takes important steps to prevent more PFAS-containing products from being brought into the state.

Jen Duggan, Vice President and Director at Conservation Law Foundation, stated: “PFAS have been detected in more than 100 public water supplies in Vermont. We’ve taken important steps to clean up this toxic pollution, but we need to get PFAS out of our everyday products before they contaminate our environment and make us sick.”  

“PFAS chemicals are particularly scary because they bioaccumulate in our bodies, so every exposure pathway matters,” said Marcie Gallagher, Environmental Associate at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “The only way to protect public health from these ‘forever chemicals’ is to cut down on exposure as much as possible.”

S.20 targets five different areas of consumer products that are major sources of PFAS exposure and environmental contamination: 

  • Bans PFAS from firefighting foam, and requires disclosure of use of PFAS in personal protective equipment
  • Bans PFAS and phthalates from food packaging, and authorizes rule-making to potentially restrict harmful bisphenol chemicals
  • Bans PFAS from residential carpets and rugs and aftermarket treatments
  • Bans PFAS from ski wax
  • Requires reporting on the use of PFAS chemicals in children’s products sold in Vermont

For each of these product categories, there are safer and cost-competitive alternatives available. Most of these provisions have already been acted on by other states through laws or regulations. Many retailers are also starting to move away from the use of these toxic substances in the products they sell.

“We thank the Vermont Senate for its overwhelming support of this legislation to protect Vermonters’ health from toxic PFAS chemicals, and look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to advance this important public health measure,” added Hierl.