Proposal expands list of products made with “forever chemicals” that would be banned

The west side of the Colorado Capitol is pictured in March 2024.

Colorado legislators began advancing a bill Tuesday that bans the use of “forever chemicals” in an increasing amount of consumer products — but also began to narrow down the scope of the bill before it even had exited its first committee.

Senate Bill 81 expands on a two-year-old law that first outlawed the sale of certain products containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, known as PFAS, which don’t break down easily and seep into groundwater and drinking-water supplies as a result. It would newly ban sale or distribution of cookware, dental floss, menstruation products, ski wax and textile articles that contain intentionally added PFAS chemicals on Jan. 1, and it would require outdoor apparel for severe wet conditions to be labeled then as being made with PFAS chemicals before the gear is banned altogether in 2028.

Those items would add to a list of PFAS-boosted products already banned by the 2022 bill, including carpets, fabric treatments, food packaging, juvenile products and oil-and-gas products. But the new list could have been longer and much more sweeping if not for an amendment added in the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee by Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo.

Changes afoot for “forever chemicals” bill

Hinrichsen’s amendment continued an exemption allowing use of class B firefighting foams at fuel storage and distribution facilities and at tank farms after several witnesses testified that fluorine-free foam is nearly impossible to get because most of it is being used now by the U.S. Department of Defense. It also removed cleaning products from the list of goods with added PFAS that become illegal in Colorado next year, and it nixed the bill’s most controversial provision — a ban on the sale of any product with intentionally added PFAS chemicals come 2032.

Sponsoring Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Morrison, said she is working on several other amendments with various industry sectors and expects to introduce them on the Senate floor after Democrats on the committee advanced SB 81 to the full chamber on a 5-2 party-line vote. But the bill’s purpose remains the same, she emphasized — to get products containing these chemicals out of circulation as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepares to reduce the acceptable limit on PFAS in water supplies, which could force water-treatment plants to spend heavily on equipment and pass such costs onto customers.

Colorado state Sen. Lisa Cutter speaks on the Senate floor during the 2023 legislative session.

“Everyday products should not poison a water supply that’s under increased demands from a statewide water shortage and drought,” Cutter said. “Companies need the nudge toward removing these toxic chemicals because right now they are cheaper and easier to get a hold of (than PFAS-free options).”

“Overly broad and nonscientific approach”

But an array of business organizations, most of whom said they supported the changes in Hinrichsen’s amendments, said the original language of the bill threatened to shut down several key sectors.

Chris Correnti — president/CEO of AGC America, a wholesale glass-related-products building supply firm with 500 employees at its Boulder and Longmont plants, warned that the 2032 ban could cripple Colorado’s efforts to lower greenhouse-gas emissions. PFAS chemicals are prevalent in electric-vehicle wiring, underground-cable insulation, membranes for hydrogen fuel cells, windmill parts and batteries, among other products, he told the committee.

David Dazlich, vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corp., said such chemicals also are necessary in the process of manufacturing semiconductors — an industry the state is investing heavily to attract. And Angie Binder, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Association, warned that PFAS-added firefighting foam remains necessary to prevent catastrophic damage from potential fires at fuel facilities until fluorine-free foam is readily accessible.

“Although we agree with some of the concepts and aspects of the bill, I’m testifying on behalf of our members today against Senate Bill 81 as written,” said Sean Swearingen, director of the Washington D.C.-based American Chemistry Council. “Senate Bill 81’s overly broad and nonscientific approach undermines efforts to implement effective regulatory policies for PFAS and will have far-reaching negative consequences on the economy.”

Other amendments requested

Several leaders from the outdoor apparel industry, including Denver’s VF Corp., asked that they be able to sell through current warehoused stock of PFAS-added products without labels through 2028, lest they have to bury them in landfills and cause more damage. And the Colorado Restaurant Association, calling it “near impossible” to move to PFAS-free cookware in the next nine months, sought a separate amendment allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set standards for commercial cookware products.

Cutter did not address either of those amendment requests on Tuesday.

Companies began adding PFAS to products in the 1940s and 1950s so that they could be made resistant to water and grease, among other things. But the same properties that make these “forever chemicals” so hard to break down in the face of exterior threats makes them equally as hard to dissolve in water, and several witnesses said that studies have estimated PFAS traces now are in 99% of humans.

The health threats from forever chemicals

That is problematic because EPA and other studies have found PFAS to lead to a slew of adverse health conditions, including diminished fertility, increased liver cancer, decreased birth rates and increased asthma, said Gretchen Salter, strategic advisor for Safer States. And instances of increased PFAS levels in drinking water are more common in low-income communities near factories that produce PFAS-added products or use firefighting foams to control oil-and-gas blazes or spills, others said.

Bill supporters such as Rebecca Curry, Colorado policy counsel for Earthjustice, said SB 81 specifically targets non-essential products for which there exist safer alternatives without added PFAS.

Without action, Curry and Cutter warned, wastewater systems could be left to fend on their own for pricey new filtering equipment if the EPA drops the acceptable level of PFAS contamination to four parts per trillion — the equivalent to one drop of water in five Olympic-sized swimming pools.