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Our View: PFAS ban best choice

Getting rid of forever chemicals vital to protect humans, watersheds

Convenience is a distinctly American value. The more convenient something is, the more we embrace it, especially if we save time and money.

For generations, this quest for convenience has taken hold in our daily lives. The quicker we can cook or clean – hello, nonstick pans – the better. The more waterproof our rain gear and tents, the more highly we rate these products.

Forever chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, repel water, lubricate and prevent stains better than anything else on the planet. But knowing what we now know, we have to change what we can. It’s crucial that we ban PFAS to protect our health and our water sources from these deadly contaminants.

And this ban can’t come soon enough.

House Bill 22-1345, which quietly passed in the state House and Senate, prohibits the sale of carpets, cosmetics, fabric treatments, food packaging, children’s products, furniture and other items with PFAS, starting in 2024. Cookware would have a labeling requirement. At press time, the bill was back in the House for legislators to concur on amendments. It was expected to be signed into law by today.

PFAS are linked to cancer and other significant health issues. The chemicals move easily through water and stay there.

Critics say the bill is too sweeping, covering PFAS in consumer products to regulations on using – and containing – firefighting foam. In our new reality of any season is fire season, we understand the risks when firefighters choose to apply a Class B foam, the best fire suppression for flammable and combustible liquids. The American Chemistry Council opposes the bill, saying it would “jeopardize many of the important products Colorado families and businesses rely on every day.” This is true. Some items will disappear.

Note, HB 22-1345 does not ban PFAS in solar panels, batteries, semiconductors or medical devices.

Dental floss, mattresses, makeup – PFAS are in almost everything. Including us. PFAS are present in the blood of most humans. We are the end result of DuPont’s signature slogan from the ’30s to the ’80s, “Better living through chemistry,” when science banked on solving any human problem based on Americans’ affinity for convenience.

It’s time to transition to safer products. HB 22-1345 asks us to sacrifice and say no to things we don’t even realize contain these forever chemicals. If you think the COVID-19-tested supply chain issues were bad, wait until PFAS are banned. Disruptions will be a royal pain as production limitations collide with demand. But we have to start somewhere. This bill is it.

We can do this. Remember the pesticide DDT? We got rid of it in 1972 because of harmful effects. In 1970, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell brought awareness to the cause in “Big Yellow Taxi” with the lyrics, “Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT/I don’t care about spots on my apples/Leave me the birds and the bees.” We’ve banned dangerous substances before and, over time, found substitutes.

The situation is serious. In Fountain, the water supply was contaminated by PFAS from firefighting foam at a nearby military airfield.

We’re just beginning to understand the impact of PFAS on wildlife and aquatic species. A recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study found PFAS in 100% of the fish it sampled from previously known contaminated sites in El Paso, Jefferson and Adams counties. The sites are popular fishing spots where anglers often eat their catch. There is – as yet – no clear standard on PFAS levels and how much is too much, and when exactly that healthy looking fish dinner is harmful.

A gap remains between warnings and research results in the context of what they mean for our health. By the time we know, will it be too late? Will we have already polluted our water?

Let’s go big. Let’s ban as much as reasonable for the health of our watersheds and all life. No matter the inconveniences.