New York moves to ban ‘forever chemicals’ in firefighting foam

By John Herzfeld and Keshia Clukey | Bloomberg Environment | December 26, 2019

Read the full article by John Herzfeld and Keshia Clukey (Bloomberg Environment)

New York enacted a ban on the use, manufacture, sale, or distribution of firefighting foam and equipment containing fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, unless no viable alternatives are available.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) Dec. 23 gave his conditional approval to the legislation (A.445/S.439), which phases out the use of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam for fire suppression and prevention. The foam contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment.

In a memorandum filed with his approval, Cuomo said that legislators had agreed to amendments to give the state discretion to allow exceptions to the ban for uses where no effective alternative firefighting agent is available.

Exposure to PFAS is linked to certain cancers, hormone disruptions, and other medical conditions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Seepage of the foam into groundwater near military and civilian airfields in New York has been tied to findings of high blood levels of the chemicals in people, bill sponsors said.

“Phasing out PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam will eliminate a major source of water pollution in New York State, resulting in cleaner and healthier drinking water for all residents,” Rob Hayes, clean water associate for Environmental Advocates of New York, said in a statement welcoming Cuomo’s approval.

The broad ban will take effect in two years, with a ban on their use in training exercises kicking in immediately.

Washington, in 2018, became the first state to ban PFAS in firefighting foams, and New Hampshire passed a broad ban in September. Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Virginia passed bans on training use of the foams earlier this year, and Georgia enacted a ban limited to “testing purposes,” according to the advocacy group Safer States.

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