Equilibrium & Sustainability

Colorado legislature passes bill banning ‘forever chemicals’ in products

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Coloradans would no longer be able to sell or distribute a long list of products that contain so-called forever chemicals under a bill approved by the state’s legislature this week.

The bill, which would restrict some products as early as Jan. 1, 2024, passed both chambers with bipartisan support and is now headed to Gov. Jared Polis’s (D) desk.

On the list of products are carpets or rugs, cosmetics, fabric treatments, food packaging, juvenile products, oil and gas products, textiles furnishings and upholstered furniture, according to the bill.

Cookware that contains such compounds “in the handle of the product or in any product surface that comes into contact with food” would also need to disclose these ingredients on their product labels.

Forever chemicals — also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are most notorious for their presence in jet fuel firefighting foams and industrial discharge, but they are also key ingredients in household products like those included in the Colorado ban.

There are thousands of types of PFAS, some of which are linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer and a host of other illnesses. They earned the epithet “forever chemicals” due to their propensity to endure long-term in the human body and in the environment.

“Colorado has more PFAS sites than any other state, so I’m thrilled that we were able to overcome a number of hurdles and pass this bill,” State Rep. Lisa Cutter (D), co-sponsor of the bill, told The Hill in a statement.

“We know that PFAS pose a significant threat to the health of our environment and our people so acting to address this is a moral imperative,” Cutter added.

In addition to restricting certain consumer products, the Colorado bill would also require those who use PFAS-based firefighting foam to “fully contain the firefighting foam during its use, safe store the firefighting foam” and report any spills to a designated hotline.

While the bill had sponsors on both sides of the aisle in the state Assembly, it received only Democratic sponsorship in the state Senate. However, the legislation passed with bipartisan support in both chambers.

If the bill becomes law, the sale or distribution of carpets or rugs, fabric treatments, food packaging, children’s items and oil and gas products that contain intentionally added PFAS would be banned in 2024. The rules regarding cookware would go into place at the same time.

The sale or distribution of cosmetics, indoor textile furnishings and indoor upholstered furniture that contains intentionally added PFAS would be prohibited in 2025, while the same would go for outdoor textile furnishings and outdoor upholstered furnishings in 2027, according to the bill.

The phrase “intentionally added” refers to PFAS that a manufacturer has added to a product on purpose, which have a functional effect on that product, according to the bill. This language is typically used in legislation to differentiate from cases of unintentional contamination during the manufacturing process, Environmental Health News reported.

Environmental activists applauded the Colorado bill’s advancement, with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) describing the bill as “one of the country’s most comprehensive PFAS restrictions on consumer products, oil and gas production.”

“These are dangerous chemicals and there is no reason to allow them in our consumer products,” Danny Katz, CoPIRG executive director, said in a statement.

“Colorado is continuing to act in a bipartisan way to stop the exposure to these chemicals that can leach into our waters and bodies, and cause serious health problems like cancer and impairing immune systems,” Katz added.

Emily Rogers, an advocate for toxic chemicals removal at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG), referred to the restriction of PFAS use in products as “a common-sense idea to protect public health and our environment.”

“I hope to see more states and the federal government follow Colorado’s lead and take strong action to turn off the tap on PFAS contamination across the country,” Rogers added.

If Polis signs the bill into law, Colorado will join states like Maine and Vermont in implementing comprehensive PFAS product bans.

In May 2021, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law a bill banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of various items containing intentionally added PFAS, in a gradual manner over the next two years. The products included firefighting foam, children’s items, food packaging, rugs and carpets and ski wax.

Last July, Maine became the first state to pass an all-inclusive PFAS product prohibition — legalizing a 2030 ban on most products with intentionally added PFAS as an emergency measure, without the governor’s signature.

In October, meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed two laws banning the use of forever chemicals in children’s products and food packaging, as The Hill reported.

Several other states also have bans in place on individual products that contain PFAS.

Liz Rosenbaum, a longtime PFAS activist from the Colorado Springs region, described the Colorado legislation as “a really good start.” She expressed disappointment, however, that certain measures were eliminated from the bill — attributing these cuts to state Rep. Mary Bradfield (R), who co-sponsored the legislation.

Of particular concern, Rosenbaum told The Hill, was the removal of ski wax from the list of banned products.

“If it has PFAS, doesn’t it get in the snow and melt into the rivers and then go into the water?” she asked.

Rosenbaum is the founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition — representing a region that has faced severe PFAS contamination from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. 

She also raised concerns about the removal of a requirement that heart valves and other medical devices with PFAS come with a label noting the existence of the chemicals.

The Hill has reached out to Bradfield’s office for comment.

Despite these exclusions, Rosenbaum hailed the legislation’s advancement.

“Some other states are really, really looking at it, which is great,” Rosenbaum said. “We get to be a groundbreaking state.”

—Updated at 4:16 p.m.

Tags Colorado forever chemicals Jared Polis PFAS

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