Ban on Toxic Chemicals to Protect Firefighters and Drinking Water Moves Ahead in California Senate

May 29, 2020

Contact: Shannon Flaherty
(775) 315-6831

Sacramento, CA – A plan to ban dangerous chemicals took a step forward today in the California Senate.  

Senate Bill 1044 by Senator Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would ban the manufacture, sale and use of firefighting foam that contains chemicals known as per-and poly-fluoralkyl substances, or PFAS, except for where it is federally required. Used in commercial and industrial products like carpet, clothing and non-stick coatings since the 1950s, PFAS resist heat, stains and water. PFAS is used in firefighting foam and commercial products and is linked to health problems such as cancer, hormone disruption, kidney and liver damage, thyroid disease, birth defects, harm to developing infants and children, and drinking water contamination.

Unfortunately, carcinogenic PFAS contamination has been found in drinking water around the country, including water sources that serve at least 7.5 million people statewide. Much of the contamination can be traced back to the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. The widespread use of this foam leeches into the state’s water supply.  The chemicals in the foam also seep into firefighters’ bodies, causing numerous health problems.  

“We ask our brave firefighters day in and day out to put their lives at risk for our safety,” said Senator Allen. “We owe it to them to not further jeopardize their health by continuing their exposure to these harmful chemicals. There are better alternatives out there and we should start moving toward those better alternatives.”

Firefighters are exposed to many substances linked to health problems, including PFAS. Multiple studies have demonstrated that firefighters are at a higher risk for cancer or serious illness through occupational exposure to dangerous substances. PFAS is linked to an increased risk of cancer, and firefighting protective gear contains PFAS. Firefighters have been found to have abnormally-elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood.

“Firefighters put their lives on the line daily to protect the public and risk exposure to hazardous materials throughout their careers,” said Brian K. Rice, President California Professional Firefighters.  “Exposure to PFAS through the use of Class B firefighting foam is both dangerous and unnecessary, causing serious health effects that can be prevented with safer alternatives.”

Currently, there are alternatives to PFAS that are cost-saving and effective. According to an international independent expert panel, all PFAS-based foam should be phased out over time, and that non-PFAS foams are viable and cost effective. Globally, other countries have adjusted. London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the largest in the world, and all 27 major Australian airports, have already successfully transitioned to PFAS-free firefighting foam.

Other U.S. states have enacted bans on most uses of PFAS-containing “Class B” firefighting foam, including New York, Washington, Colorado and New Hampshire.

Current federal law requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to phase out the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam at military installations. The phase-out does not begin until 2024, however, and the restrictions only affect military uses.

“PFAS contamination is a serious environmental and human health threat, one that will affect us for generations,” said Anna Reade, a staff scientist at NRDC, (Natural Resources Defense Council). “It’s time to stop adding to this enormous problem. Firefighting foam is a major source of contamination, yet there are safer alternatives available today. SB 1044 will end the unnecessary use of PFAS in firefighting foam and protect our firefighters and communities from these toxic “forever” chemicals.”

“PFAS chemicals harm people and harm the environment…forever. These persistent chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, as well as numerous other negative health impacts.” said Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “Ending the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam is an important first step toward reducing the contamination of our water and environment, and protecting our firefighters. We thank Sen. Allen for his tremendous leadership on this issue and urge the Senate to VOTE YES on SB 1044!”

Bill Allayaud, California Director of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group, stated, “Californians are exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals in too many ways, almost all of which they are not aware of.  SB 1044 will address one of the most important exposure pathways – PFAS in groundwater due to runoff from PFAS foam. This source can mean PFAS in our drinking water which is absolutely a health concern.”

"Too many communities are learning the hard way that continuing to pump PFAS into the environment will not only contaminate our water, but add tremendous costs to water systems", said Andria Ventura, Toxics Program Manager for Clean Water Action.  "SB 1044 will stop one of the largest sources of PFAS in California.  Its importance can't be overstated."

The bill passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on a 5-0 vote. The bill will now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee to be heard at a later date.

# # #

Ben Allen represents the 26th State Senate District. which consists of the Hollywood, Westside, and South Bay communities of Los Angeles County.