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Protecting communities from toxic PFAS

Focusing on hope feels like what is needed in this moment as we look toward 2021. In that spirit, here is our final post celebrating 2020 victories on toxic chemicals.

While Safer States primarily focuses on stopping the use of toxic chemicals, another key aspect of our mission is to support the clean up of communities that have been impacted by toxic pollution. We are happy to report that we have seen many victories this year in this fight!

Colorado passed a bill that not only creates a fire fighting foam take-back program, but it is a paradigm shift since the program will be funded through a new fee on oil and gas companies that is expected to generate $6 million a year. The funds will also be used for PFAS testing, treatment technology for water systems, and emergency assistance to communities and water systems affected by PFAS. Connecticut also successfully secured $2 million to pay for the creation of a fire fighting foam take-back program, PFAS testing and providing bottled water to communities with contaminated water supplies.

New York achieved another national first—a policy that bans incineration of PFAS-based firefighting foam was unanimously approved by the state legislature and awaits a Governor’s signature. This would be a major victory, especially for the town of Cohoes which is home to an incinerator that contracted with the Department of Defense to incinerate firefighting foam and accepts waste from more than two dozen states. Studies have shown that incineration may spread PFAS, rather than fully breaking it down and preliminary research revealed that soil and water near the Cohoes facility are contaminated with concerning levels of PFAS.

New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire set new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals, other states like California took steps towards setting such standards, and Virginia created a task force to study the scope of PFAS contamination in the state and develop solutions. Both of these are critical steps to make communities whole again, and figure out how to alleviate some of the harm from corporate pollution.

At the same time, several state Attorney Generals (AGs) got into the action and either signaled or initiated litigation against chemical manufacturers and firefighting foam manufacturers. In Michigan, the AG filed a string of lawsuits in both federal and state court against chemical manufacturers 3M, DuPont, Chemguard, National Foam, and others which seeks money for damages and clean-up costs. The North Carolina AG  filed suit against Chemours and DuPont for “all past and future costs necessary to investigate, assess, remediate, restore, and remedy the harms” caused by polluters. Companies should be held responsible for the harm caused by their toxic chemical pollution, even as we know that financial compensation can never truly compensate a community for the health impacts they have experienced that stem from contamination.

When the realities of coronavirus started sinking in, we were worried about the impact on states’ abilities to pass progressive policy, but we should have known that passionate advocates and like-minded legislators would find a way. We can’t wait to see what next year holds!

2021 Ahead

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