Over the past two years, policy “firsts” have cropped up in state legislatures across the country to deal with the problem of PFAS, a class of widely used chemicals linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. In the Midwest, Illinois became the first U.S. state to ban the incineration of PFAS (HB 4818), and Minnesota is the first in the region to outlaw these chemicals in food packaging (SF 20).
Wisconsin, for the first time, now has enforceable limits on levels of certain PFAS chemicals in community drinking water systems, joining Michigan in the Midwest.
Outside the region, some of the recent actions have been even further-reaching. Maine, for instance, is prohibiting all non-essential uses of PFAS in products, and after sewage sludge was discovered to be a source of widespread PFAS contamination on farmland, the state banned the use of sludge as fertilizer. Also this year, Maine legislators established a $60 million trust fund for farmers whose land and products have been contaminated by PFAS. Through the fund, the state will purchase contaminated property, replace the lost income of farmers and monitor the health of affected families. In Vermont, residents exposed to PFAS contamination now have a right to medical monitoring (paid for by PFAS polluters).
“It’s everywhere, and the cleanup is very difficult to do and very expensive,” Minnesota Rep. Ami Wazlawik says about the challenges posed by PFAS contamination. “So you have the prevalence of the chemicals in the environment, the fact that they are ‘forever chemicals’ that stick around, and then the negative health impacts.”