Restrictions on 'forever chemicals' advance once again in Minnesota Legislature
PFAS don’t break down in the environment. They're used everything from non-stick cookware to firefighting foams.
ST. PAUL — As the Environmental Protection Agency releases new guidance on limits for “forever chemicals” in drinking water, Minnesota lawmakers are once again advancing legislation placing new restrictions on the chemicals. Increasing evidence suggests they are harmful to humans and the environment.
Bills moving through the Legislature this year would ban PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — from many consumer products, create a labeling requirement for products containing the chemicals, and ban their use in firefighting foams. There’s also a proposal to ban the chemicals from children’s products.
“There is widespread recognition that we must turn away from this class of chemicals to protect water, land and human health,” said Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Depphaven, who is carrying the Senate bill to ban the chemicals in certain products. “Since PFAS started in Minnesota it's appropriate that we lead in ending its use.”
The use of PFAS, a group of thousands of chemicals used for their nonstick and water-resistant properties, was pioneered by Minnesota-based 3M. They are used in a wide variety of products and are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and can accumulate in the tissue of living things.
Over recent decades, peer-reviewed studies have shown that exposure to PFAS could be linked to a heightened risk of certain cancers, decreased fertility, high blood pressure in pregnant women, low birth weights and hormonal interference. Minnesota has already banned the chemicals in food wrappers.
PFAS contamination has been found all over Minnesota. The state pollution control agency in 2021 warned that the chemicals had leaked from landfills across the state, creating unsafe levels of drinking water contamination in 41 counties.
Minnesota's pollution control agency says PFAS contamination in fish is “pervasive” across the state. And in 2021, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued its first-ever PFAS fish consumption advisory for Lake Superior smelt, recommending no more than one meal a month.
Two years ago, 3M agreed to pay the city of Bemidji $12.5 million to build and support a new water treatment facility after the city found PFAS in its water supply. The contamination was linked to fire extinguishing foam used by local fire departments training at the regional airport.
Contamination can be found across the state, but at center stage is extensive groundwater contamination in the eastern Twin Cities metro, an area where 3M has manufactured the chemicals for decades. The company settled a lawsuit over the contamination with the state of Minnesota in 2018 for $850 million and has pledged to stop manufacturing the chemicals by the end of 2025.
At a Senate committee hearing on the bills earlier this month, Amanda Strande, a now-20-year-old who attended Tartan High School in the eastern metro suburb of Oakdale, testified on her exposure and five-year struggle with a rare form of cancer she said no longer can be treated.
“Despite being dangerous to public health, companies knowingly sell consumers products containing PFAS,” she said. “We need other resources to replace dangerous PFAS in manufacturing. It only seems natural that we should see a corporation like 3M … to rise to the occasion as leaders in innovation.”
Minnesota lawmakers have considered expansions of the PFAS ban in the past. In 2022, bills that would have banned the chemicals from cosmetics, cookware and ski wax got a hearing in the DFL-controlled House but did not advance in the Senate, which was then under Republican control.
Bills carried by Rep. Jeff Brand DFL-St. Peter, in the House and Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, in the Senate would regulate the chemicals in Minnesota. They’d be banned from a long list of consumer products starting in 2025, and manufacturers selling products containing PFAS would be required to report information about products to the state.
Products that would be initially banned by the bill include:
- Cleaning products
- Dental floss
Additionally, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would be able to ban PFAS in additional products by rule. By 2032, they would be banned from all products unless the use is “unavoidable.”
A broad coalition of businesses and industry groups submitted a letter against the proposed restrictions , calling them “overly broad” and lacking “scientific basis.” Further they expressed concerns about thousands of products suddenly being banned from sale and transport into Minnesota.
“This legislation would have a significant impact on Minnesota in terms of the availability of critical products that are approved and used elsewhere,” they said. “It would also foster an unworkable patchwork of state regulation with significant implications for Minnesota citizens, businesses and public entities, effectively isolating Minnesota from the rest of the country.”
The letter came from more than 60 groups including the American Chemistry Council, and a broad range of interests ranging from the Household Consumer Products Association to the automotive industry and toy makers.
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