NY Bills to Ban Harmful PFAS Chemicals & Protect Our Health

The New York State legislature only has a few short weeks left in the 2023 session to ban toxic PFAS chemicals from consumer products to protect communities. 

With only a few short weeks left to the 2023 legislative session (with session ending on June 8th), the New York legislature has an opportunity to pass four important bills that would ban toxic, “forever” PFAS chemicals in a variety of everyday household and commercial products such as cookware, cleaning and personal care products, cosmetics, textiles, menstrual products, and anti-fogging sprays and wipes. Banning PFAS in these products would make a tremendous impact in helping stop the flow of PFAS making its way into our environment, homes, and bodies. 

We need action now 

Every day we learn more about the dangers of this toxic class of manmade chemicals. There is no escaping them in our everyday lives as they don’t break down easily and their use is so ubiquitous, lurking in places you’d never imagine (yoga pants, toilet paper, and butter packaging). PFAS find their way into our environment when products containing them are manufactured, used, cleaned, and disposed of. New Yorkers are exposed to them when they work with PFAS or PFAS-containing products, use PFAS-containing products in their homes, consume food and beverages stored in PFAS-containing packaging, drink PFAS-contaminated water, and breathe PFAS pollution in the air. Sadly, it is estimated that 98% of people living in the US have PFAS in their blood. That is why it is so critical to turn off the tap of non-essential uses of PFAS.   

Tweet by Hoosick Falls PFAS advocate, Loreen Hackett

While some federal action is on the horizon (e.g., in March EPA proposed aggressive maximum contaminant levels for six PFAS in drinking water, read more here), the pace is woefully slow and doesn’t address PFAS in consumer products. States like New York is where progress is being made to turn off this proverbial tap. New York has already banned PFAS in firefighting foam in 2019, food packaging in 2020, and apparel and carpets in 2022. While this is an admirable growing list of products that will be PFAS-free in the future, it only scratches the surface of the universe of PFAS use and potential exposures for New Yorkers. 

PFAS in Everyday Products 

S.5648/A.3556 sponsored by Assemblymember Zebrowski and Senator Hoylman-Sigal would ban PFAS in fabric treatments, cookware, ski waxes, architectural paints, cleaning products, and household textiles. This bill would ban the intentional addition of PFAS in these product categories, as well as any PFAS present at or above certain levels.  

Individuals' exposure to PFAS through these products is wide and varied. For example, exposure to PFAS from cookware can occur when the non-stick surface is scratched, heated to high temperatures, or when the cookware is damaged and releases particles into the food. Exposure to PFAS from ski wax can occur through inhalation of fumes, skin contact, and ingestion of contaminated water or snow. Some studies have found that professional ski wax technicians and competitive skiers may be at higher risk for PFAS exposure due to their more frequent and intense exposure to these chemicals. PFAS exposures can result from the production, use, and disposal of all the products covered by the bill. 

The good news is that major product producers are starting to eliminate PFAS from these product categories and PFAS-free products are widely available. PFAS have already been banned in household textiles, fabric treatments, and ski wax in other states, and manufacturers will already be meeting these requirements elsewhere. For paints, cleaning products, and cookware, products without PFAS are widely available, as demonstrated by a recent report by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on paints, the long list of cleaning products on EPA’s Safer Choice list (which does not allow for PFAS), and a recent Consumer Reports on alternatives to PFAS-based non-stick cookware (pointing to alternatives such as ceramic, carbon steel, and cast iron). This legislation is critically important to: expand the availability of PFAS-free products; level the playing field and ensure safer products are available to all New Yorkers, not just those who have the means to purchase more expensive non-toxic brands and alternatives; and reduce the further release of PFAS into the environment, including drinking water sources.  

PFAS in Personal Care and Cosmetics  

Bill A.6969/S.4265 sponsored by Environmental Conservation Committee Chair, Assemblymember Glick, and Senator Webb, would ban the sale of personal care and cosmetic products that contain intentionally added substances, like PFAS and other toxic chemicals (e.g., parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, asbestos). This legislation not only bans these substances if they are intentionally added ingredients, but also seeks to limit these chemicals if they show up in products because of contamination from the supply chain and/or manufacturing process.  

Cosmetics, brushes and toiletries on a bathroom shelf.
Cosmetics, brushes and toiletries on a bathroom shelf.
Credit: Natasha Litova/iStock

Thousands of chemicals are used in cosmetics and personal care products, hundreds of which are associated with asthma, allergies, hormone disruption, neurodevelopmental problems, infertility, and even cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, "on average, women use 12 personal care products a day, exposing themselves to 168 chemical ingredients. Men use six, exposing themselves to 85 unique chemicals."  Our skin is our largest organ, and what we put on it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and potentially bioaccumulate in our body. This is why even small, prolonged exposures can lead to serious health impacts.   

The European Union prohibits the use of carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic substances in cosmetic products, and the Canadian government prohibits or restricts hundreds of harmful chemicals that are currently permitted for use in the U.S. Recently, California banned 24 toxic chemicals from cosmetics products, and other states such as Maryland and Washington have followed or are following suit. It’s time for New York to do the same.  

PFAS in Menstrual Products 

A.5990/S.3529, sponsored by Assemblymember Rosenthal and Senator Fernandez, is another winner-- banning PFAS from menstrual products.  I don’t know about you but having PFAS and other toxic chemicals in contact with one of the most sensitive and absorbent parts of the body, no thank you! This bill would ensure there are no PFAS and other toxic chemicals used in pads, tampons, liners, period underwear, sponges, aerosolized sprays, powders, and deodorizers. In the United States, there are roughly 72 million girls, women and other people of reproductive age (roughly defined as ages 15 to 49) who rely on these menstrual products, and it is estimated that menstruators may use more than 10,000 menstrual products over their lifetime

Banning toxics in these products might be obvious, but PFAS has been determined to contribute to reproductive and fertility challenges, reduced immune function, hormone interference, and cancer. Banning these nasties in menstrual care products also helps protect vulnerable populations, such as developing and adolescent females, as well as lower-income individuals who have unstable access to the menstrual products, let alone more expensive non-toxic brands and alternatives on the market.  

PFAS in Anti-fogging Sprays and Wipes  

Lastly, but not least, A.5363/ S.992 sponsored by Assemblymember Gallagher and Senator Hoylman-Sigal tackles a discrete, but non-essential PFAS use in anti-fogging sprays and wipes. A study led by Duke University in 2022 found high levels of PFAS in top-rated anti-fogging sprays and wipes used by many people to prevent condensation on eyeglasses when wearing a mask or face shield.2 The use of these sprays and wipes can expose people through inhalation and/or absorption through the skin. This bill has already passed the Senate.   

How to Take Action 

Before June 8th, we need your support and voice to take action on PFAS.  Contact your New York State Assemblymember and Senator today and let them know that PFAS does not belong in any of these products, and that we need New York to take the lead in protecting communities. Learn more here on ways to avoid PFAS in your home.  

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

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