On Tuesday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signedinto law a nation-leading bill( that restricts the sale of consumer products that contain toxic chemicals known as PFAS. The bill bans PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam, food packaging, ski wax, and carpets, rugs, and stain-resistant treatments.
S20 was supported by Vermont environmental advocates, firefighters, educators, public health experts, children’s advocates, and businesses.
Senator Ginny Lyons, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health & Welfare noted, “Firefighters, outdoor enthusiasts, children and families understand how important S.20 is for public health and the environment. The law removes toxic disease causing chemicals like PFAS from food wrappers, ski wax, kids’ products, carpets, and firefighting equipment. This step removes hidden forever chemicals from human exposure. It is an important step to keep Vermonters healthy."
Representative Ann Pugh, Chair of the House Committee on Human Services said, "By eliminating unnecessary PFAS toxins from commonly used products, we’re not only addressing the acute threat posed by these chemicals, but also the potential harm they may cause by exacerbating the harmful effects of a virus like COVID-19. This is a very important piece of legislation for Vermont today and in the future. Its passage will protect our health, our environment and our ‘Vermont’ brand in commerce and tourism."
PFAS chemicals — per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances — are linked to harmful health impacts including high blood pressure, thyroid disease, kidney, and testicular cancers, and suppressed immune system function. Harm to the immune system due to PFAS exposure has broad-ranging effects, from reduced ability to fight off viral infections to reduced responsiveness to vaccines.
Despite the harm they cause, PFAS chemicals continue to be used in a variety of products imported into Vermont, exposing people who use those products. PFAS chemicals present further threats when those items are disposed of and chemicals can leach into our water.
Bradley Reed, President of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont noted, “Passage of this bill ensures our members will not be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in the equipment and extinguishing agents we use to fight fires, it is a great step forward in protecting the health and safety of Vermont’s firefighters.”
“Your sandwich wrap doesn't need to be coated in chemicals. Your carpeting shouldn't be a health threat to toddlers. Your skis should not leave a toxic trail in the snow. And putting out a fire shouldn't create a hazardous waste site. Vermont just became the first state to ban PFAS in all of these products,” said Marcie Gallagher, Environmental Associate at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
“The legislature has taken a major step forward to protect communities and firefighters from toxic forever chemicals,” said Jen Duggan, Vice President and Director of CLF Vermont. “PFAS wreak havoc on our health and they have no place in products we use every day. Vermont is helping lead the nation in protecting people from PFAS chemicals.”
S.20 bans the sale of common items containing PFAS — including firefighting foam and food packaging. The bill also takes steps to restrict harmful phthalate and bisphenol chemicals from food packaging. S.20 is the first state law in the country to restrict PFAS chemicals from ski wax and carpets, rugs and aftermarket stain treatments.
See this sign-on letter(link is external) for more information about the bill, and a list of Vermont leaders who support its enactment.
“We applaud our state’s leadership for taking such strong action in response to the demands of our community members for protection from dangerous PFAS chemicals,” said Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters. “This bill adds powerful momentum to the fight against PFAS, and will help lead to the elimination of this dangerous chemical from all avoidable uses.”
“This ground-breaking policy has an impact beyond Vermont’s borders. It sends a strong message to the chemical industry and manufacturers that PFAS have no place in products,” explained Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “Vermont’s leadership is part of a growing movement around the country to act upstream and prevent PFAS contamination before it happens. And, other states are well-positioned to join this movement in the future.”
“This new law demonstrates that people and communities understand the dangers of these ‘forever chemicals’ and want common-sense laws to protect them,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “Vermont’s vote shows once again that this is a bipartisan issue. We can all agree that toxic chemicals don’t belong near us or in our environment. Congress must take action to ban PFAS and chemicals. Rep. Dingell’s bill to eliminate PFAS in food packaging should move forward quickly.”
“This bill confirms what retailers have seen coming,” added Mike Schade, campaign director of Mind the Store. “Driven especially by drinking water contamination, consumer demand, enacted policy, and future regulations, more and more retailers have announced plans to phase-out PFAS in their products and packaging over the last couple of years. And, with Vermont’s new bill, the foreseeable future is now here. Fast-food giants like Burger King must get out in front of the regulatory curve and ban these unnecessary toxic chemicals.”
Chemical companies make PFAS chemicals for their stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proof properties. A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. Scientists are most concerned about the cumulative impact resulting from exposures to products, contaminated drinking water, and contaminated food. A peer-reviewed study published last week found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples and that newer PFAS build up in people.
Some state and local governments are moving to phase out classes of toxic chemicals, such as PFAS, from food packaging in favor of safer alternatives. Over the past two years, Washington, New York, and Maine have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging that begin taking effect in December 2022. Federal legislation to ban PFAS in food packaging, the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act(, is expected to be reintroduced by U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell.
Over the past two years, 18 food retailers, including Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, Amazon.com, Cava, Chipotle, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Sweetgreen, Trader Joe’s, Wendy’s, and Whole Foods Market, announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at their more than 77,000 stores.
Safer States is a network of diverse environmental health coalitions and organizations in states across the country that share a bold and urgent vision to protect people and communities from toxic chemical threats. By harnessing place-based power, Safer States helps prevent harm to people and the environment caused by dangerous chemicals and creates innovative solutions that promote safer alternatives. Working directly with state-based advocacy organizations, Safer States provides support and strategic guidance to advocates as well as a platform for national collaboration and coordination. www.saferstates.org
SAFER CHEMICALS HEALTHY FAMILIES
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a program of Toxic-Free Futureb that fights for strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. www.saferchemicals.org
MIND THE STORE
The Mind the Store campaign is a program of Toxic-Free Future that challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. The campaign coordinates the annual retailer report card that benchmarks and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies and implementation programs. www.mindthestore.org and www.retailerreportcard.org
VERMONT CONSERVATION VOTERS
Founded in 1982, VCV works to elect environmentally-friendly candidates to public office, and then holds elected officials accountable for the decisions they make affecting our air, water, wildlife, land, communities, and health. www.vermontconservationvoters.com