House unanimously approves ban on toxic PFAS chemicals in consumer products

If enacted, legislation approved by the House on Tuesday would make Vermont the first state to ban PFAS chemicals from ski wax. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association also plans to ban PFAS-containing wax from its races later this year. Under Vermont’s proposal, PFAS would also be banned in fire-extinguishing foam, food packaging, and rugs and carpets. Wiki Commons

The House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday banning toxic chemicals from a slate of consumer products in Vermont.

The legislation, S.20, would restrict PFAS chemicals — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl — in four main areas: fire-extinguishing foam, food packaging, rugs and carpets, and ski wax. It also includes restrictions of phthalates and bisphenols, which are commonly used in plastic products.

Rep. Dane Whitman, D-Bennington, said the House Committee on Human Services took weeks of testimony on the bill, learning that the toxic PFAS chemicals “can cause great harm and lasting costs to human health and property.”

“It is rare to find an emerging environmental health issue that is so universal, that contaminates both the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat,” Whitman said. “It is rare to find a substance that is so ubiquitous, so persistent, and yet so unknown.”

The first three categories of PFAS bans have been replicated in states around the country. Vermont, however, would be the first state to ban the chemicals from ski wax. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association also plans to ban PFAS-containing wax from its races later this year.

PFAS have been proven to have a huge range of adverse health impacts, on everything from the liver to the endocrine system to the immune system. They can also harm fetuses, reduce sperm counts, and increase risk for cancer.

“Known as ‘forever chemicals,’ they do not biodegrade, but instead remain in contaminated areas for decades,” Whitman said. “They can also accumulate in our bodies over time, impacting various organs as they circulate through our blood.”

Whitman said PFAS can be found in more than 100 public water supplies in Vermont, and even more private wells — but also in the blood of almost every person in the United States. A large PFAS problem in the Bennington area required an expensive cleanup that will continue for years.

Ending the manufacturing, sale and distribution of these PFAS-containing products is “the most impactful step” Vermont can take to reduce levels of the toxic chemicals, according to testimony heard by the committee. 

A slew of lawmakers spoke in support of the legislation. Several remembered previous bills targeting the toxic chemicals in Vermont that saw a much worse reception — and praised the body on how far it’s come since its efforts on previous bills.

Rep. Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland, recalled opposition to a chemical bill from several years ago, and urged other legislators to support the current version. 

“I can’t say for sure, but I think I voted against that bill because I didn’t have enough information,” Burditt said. “Since then, I have done an incredible amount of reading around chemicals and what they can do to a person.”

Lawmakers also pointed to the money the bill would save taxpayers on detection, cleanup, treatment, disposal and health care costs associated with the toxic chemicals.

“My first recollection of talking about these chemicals on the floor was about a dozen years ago, and that debate was very contentious, shall we say,” said Rep. George Till, D-Jericho. “It makes me very proud of this body to see how the support for these desperately needed measures has grown and become virtually universal in this body.”

The House voted in support of the bill 145-0 on Tuesday, though it still needs final approval. The Senate also unanimously favored the measure in March.

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