Minnesota legislators are looking to ban PFAS, a group of chemicals that are resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease, and water but build up in the environment over time.
PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are found in many household products and have polluted drinking water and soil. Exposure to PFAS chemicals may be linked to health risks such as reproductive issues, increased chance for kidney, prostate, and testicular cancers, immune system issues, increase in high blood pressure/cholesterol, and interference with natural hormones.
Some common products containing PFAS chemicals are carpets, cleaning products, cookware, cosmetics, children’s toys, furniture, ski wax, menstrual products, and dental floss. Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, called the use of PFAS in these products “non-essential,” and in her bill directs the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to phase out PFAS in these products starting Jan. 1, 2025.
“There is widespread recognition that we must turn away from this class of chemicals to protect water, land, and human health,” Morrison said in a Senate hearing earlier this month.
Here are the four PFAS bills that have already received hearings this session:
- SF 776/HF 742: Prohibition of PFAS in firefighting foam, sponsored by Sen. Judy Seeberger, DFL-Afton, and Rep. Matt Norris, DFL-Blaine.
- SF 834/HF 1000: Prohibition of PFAS in certain products, sponsored by Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, and Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter
- SF 450/HF 372: Requirement for a PFAS notice on products, sponsored by Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, and Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St.Paul
- SF 2222/HF 552: Prohibition of PFAS in juvenile products, sponsored by Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, and Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie
All four bills were approved by the Minnesota Senate Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee and will head to the Senate Commerce Committee to be discussed next. The measures have passed various House committees, as well.
During the Senate hearing, several people, ranging from firefighters to experts in various science fields, testified. Most were in favor of the bills.
Among those testifying was Amara Strande, a graduate of Tartan High School in Oakdale who suffers from a rare liver cancer and suspects it’s linked to water supplied to the high school and communities in Washington County that was contaminated with PFAS. 3M manufactured the chemicals for years and dumped waste that then seeped into groundwater and community drinking water supplies.
Strande described during the hearing “the everyday horrors” she has gone through since receiving her diagnosis, urging legislators to support these bills. “I was exposed to these chemicals through no fault of my own,” Strande said.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against 3M in 2010 over the contamination, and in 2018 3M agreed to an $850 million settlement that would help with cleanup, though the company said it has never believed there was a health issue linked to the chemicals. In December, 3M announced it would “exit all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025.”
In presenting her bill related to firefighting foam, Seeberger stressed the importance of removing PFAS chemicals from the environment.
“If we can take action today to prevent the introduction of more of this stuff into our environment, we have every obligation to do so,” she said.
Despite overwhelming support in the Senate hearing, challenges lie ahead in regulating PFAS.
Senators on the committee questioned how businesses would be impacted by getting their products from outside industries, especially from countries like China and Taiwan. Morrison, along with MPCA representative Tom Johnson, said the conversation surrounding PFAS is being had on a “global basis” and “the United States is not the only country having this conversation.”
Additionally, there was some pushback with the wording of the bills, specifically from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Tony Kwilas.
Kwilas said legislators are making progress, but finding the right certified alternative is going to take time. He added companies are going to need time to adjust to the changes, contributing to his point that banning these chemicals is a slow process.
Another issue he brought up in the hearing was with wording of SF 450 and SF 834, since small businesses mostly receive their products from suppliers not located in Minnesota who may not be covered by the Minnesota legislation.
“Small to medium-sized businesses would have to check with their numerous suppliers on something as small as a washer or a gasket because a simple product could contain hundreds of components that would be impacted in this bill,” Kwilas testified.
Kwilas added he has the same goals as the legislators, saying he also wants to see PFAS chemicals out of products.
Gustafson echoed Seeberger’s testimony by saying she found it “thoroughly unacceptable we continue to allow Minnesota consumers to blindly have these products pushed into their lives.”
The action by state lawmakers comes at the same time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves toward establishing drinking water standards for PFAS. Leaders at the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Health welcomed the announcement and said water systems across the state will continue to be tested for PFAS.
“New and evolving science shows clearly that humans are more sensitive to PFAS than was previously thought, so MDH scientists are re-evaluating and revising the MDH PFAS health-based guidance values to better protect public health,” MDH and MPCA said in a joint statement.
Madison Roth is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment with MinnPost in spring 2023.