Equilibrium & Sustainability

Newsom signs ban on ‘forever chemicals’ in cosmetics and clothes, but vetoes tracking program

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks before signing legislation
Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group via AP
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) speaks before signing legislation establishing the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2022.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) late Thursday night signed two bills that will ban cancer-linked “forever chemicals” from cosmetic products and textiles in the state beginning in 2025.

The same evening, however, the governor vetoed a third bill that would have created a publicly accessible database of consumer items that contain these toxic compounds.

The first bill signed into law, AB 2771, will prohibit the manufacture, sale and delivery of cosmetic products that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This legislation builds upon an existing law that had banned select types of PFAS by that same deadline.

“Toxic PFAS have no place in our consumer products,” state Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D), who authored the bill, said in a statement.

“Californians won’t have to worry that they’re putting their health, or the health of their loved ones, at risk by doing something as routine as applying lotion or wearing makeup,” she added.

The second bill, AB 1817, will bar the manufacture, distribution and sale of “any new, not previously owned” textiles that contain PFAS, with a few exceptions. The bill will also require manufacturers to provide a certificate of compliance indicating that their products do not contain PFAS.

“This is a first-in-the nation law to stop the use of these ‘forever chemicals’ in this product category, setting up a national model on the efforts to mitigate PFAS pollution,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), who authored the bill, said in a statement.

These new requirements follow up on two other product bans signed into law last October. Those bills, proposed by Friedman and Ting respectively, prohibit the sale and distribution of both food packaging and children’s products that contain PFAS, beginning next year.

There are thousands of types of PFAS, synthetic substances known for their ability to persist in the human body and in the environment and resist natural processes to break them down. These so-called forever chemicals are also linked to many illnesses, including thyroid disease, kidney cancer and testicular cancer.

PFAS are key ingredients in a variety of household products, including nonstick pans, makeup and waterproof and stain-resistant clothing.

With the signing of Ting’s new bill, no individual will be able to distribute, sell or offer for sale in California new textiles that contain PFAS beginning on January 1, 2025. Some such items include apparel, accessories, handbags, backpacks, draperies, bedding, towels and tablecloths.

Just last week, a new study determined that millions of students in the U.S. and Canada are being exposed to forever chemicals through the uniforms they wear every day.

PFAS are often added to textiles due to their ability to prevent stains, making them useful for school uniforms but potentially harmful to children’s health, according to the study.

While the ban includes a 2025 deadline for most textiles, there are some notable exceptions.

For outdoor apparel designed for severe wet conditions, the PFAS prohibition will only take effect on January 1, 2028, according to the bill. But starting on the first day of 2025, anyone selling or distributing such items must include a “Made with PFAS chemicals” disclosure statement when marketing their products, the bill says.

Personal protective equipment and firefighting gear are exempt from the law, as there are not yet suitable alternatives that do not contain PFAS, according to the bill.

Friedman’s cosmetics ban, meanwhile, mandates that no one can manufacture, sell, deliver, hold or offer for sale “any cosmetic product that contains intentionally added” PFAS. 

The bill defines “intentionally added” PFAS as PFAS that a manufacturer has purposefully added to an item that has a functional impact on that product.

Following the bill’s passage, a spokesperson for the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) — which represents cosmetics firms — specifically highlighted that the bill only applies to PFAS when it is added “intentionally” to a product.

The spokesperson, who said that the group worked with Friedman on the legislation, confirmed that the bill “aligns with PCPC’s PFAS principles.”

But Susan Little, an advocate for the Environmental Working Group, stressed that the “intentionally added” refers to any PFAS added as an ingredient to a product.

The phrase only excludes PFAS that appears in a product as a contaminant, according to Little, the group’s senior advocate for California government affairs.

“Eliminating the intentional use of PFAS from cosmetics will remove those products with the highest levels of these chemicals from the market,” said Little, whose organization co-sponsored Friedman’s bill.

According to the bill, cosmetics include any item for retail sale or professional use whose purpose is “to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, sprayed on, introduced into or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”

“This is a huge deal,” Little said in a statement. “California has the largest statewide market for cosmetics and the sixth biggest economy in the world.”

Because California has long been considered “a bellwether state,” Little said she believes that the rest of the nation could follow in its footsteps.

“With its huge consumer market, required changes to formulations and manufacturing practices in California often affect the rest of the U.S.,” she continued.

California’s ban, she explained, could allow for such formulations to be available nationwide.

While it has been well-established that PFAS exposure threatens human health through ingestion and inhalation, fewer studies exist on the dangers of absorption through skin.

Little pointed out, however, that people who wear lipstick may consume some of it when they eat, while eye makeup can be absorbed into the body through tear ducts.

Other makeup can likewise be absorbed through the eyes and mouth when the consumer wears the product for a long time, while PFAS in a propellant spray can be inhaled, according to Little.

She also pointed to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study that deemed dermal exposure to one type of PFAS “immunotoxic” and cited “potential adverse effects.”

“The overall contribution of PFAS in cosmetics to exposure is not fully understood, but based on the incredible toxicity of PFAS at low concentrations, any additional exposure is a concern,” Little said.

While Little praised Newsom’s decision to sign that bill into law, she expressed disappointment regarding the third PFAS-related bill that the governor vetoed — and which was also co-sponsored by the Environmental Working Group.

That bill, AB 2247, would have required California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control to contract with a chemical data collection entity to generate publicly accessible records on items containing intentionally added PFAS.

In his veto statement, Newsom explained that the bill would “cost millions of dollars” and require increased resources for new staffing and oversight.

“With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending,” the governor wrote.

Newsom also noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is undergoing rulemaking regarding PFAS reporting, meaning that enacting such a bill in California could be premature.

The American Chemistry Council — a chemical industry trade group — applauded Newsom’s veto, stressing in a statement that the bill was “redundant and unworkable.”

As far as the other two bills are concerned, the American Chemistry Council said that it will be “working constructively with state policymakers” to address any shortcomings.

Little, on the other hand, argued that AB 2247 could have “set the stage to allow the state to more effectively regulate the use of these chemicals.”

“While we realize that the governor chose to veto the bill to save costs, without this information, the state’s local governments and water agencies will pay many times over to clean up toxic PFAS from our water,” Little said.

Rachel Frazin contributed.

Tags California Forever chemicals Gavin Newsom PFAS
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