US state bans PFAS foam

Published:  04 April, 2018

Washington becomes first state in the US to ban fire-fighting foams containing PFASs.

Last month the Washington State House of Representatives voted 72-26 to ban the sale of fire-fighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); this week the law was signed into law by state governor Jay Inslee (pictured).

PFAS-based class B firefighting foams have been used since the 1970s for vapour suppression, fire fighting, and fire-fighting training at airports, refineries, bulk storage terminals and other facilities handling large volumes of flammable liquid petroleum or natural gas. PFAS chemicals are used because of their ability to produce a fast spreading foam.

According the US Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body.

The latest measure seeks to reduce the release of the highly persistent substances into the environment from fire-fighting activities.

The legislation bans the sale of the foams from 1 July 2020 unless its use is required by federal law or the foam will be used by an oil refinery, oil terminal, or chemical plant for fire fighting.

The legislation bans the use of the foam in fire training exercises as of 1 July this year.

Manufacturers that produce, sell or distribute PFAS-containing fire-fighting foam for a non-exempted use after July 1, 2020 (when the ban comes into effect) are required to recall their product and reimburse retailers or other purchasers.

In addition, suppliers of firefighting clothing-containing PFAS are required to notify their customers of the fact by 1 July 2018, or face civil penalties.

PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals that are not found naturally in the environment. Molecules in all PFAS chemicals contain carbon and fluorine atoms and some also include oxygen, hydrogen, sulphur or nitrogen atoms. PFAS chemical molecules are differentiated from each other by chain length, or the number of carbon atoms, in the molecule.

The Department of Ecology states that the toxicity of PFAS compounds varies. Studies in animals show that exposure to some PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood and exposure may be linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

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