The Phoenix Flyer

Forever chemicals: FL Senate panel proposes to tackle PFAS contamination

By: - December 14, 2021 7:05 pm

Confirmed and suspected PFAS-contaminated military sites in Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. Source: Environmental Working Group

Florida’s Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources plans to address PFAS, a class of man-made compounds referred to as “forever chemicals” that may pose public health or ecological risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed committee bill would create a 16-member task force by next fall to determine how to identify and clean up contamination with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used for decades in a variety of consumer products such as food packaging and cookware.

PFAS also have long been used in fire suppressant foams commonly used at firefighting training facilities, airports, chemical plants and military installations.

“PFAS have been widely used since the 1950s in many industries, including the aerospace, semiconductor, medical, automotive, construction, electronics, and aviation industries. The compounds have also been used as coatings in a variety of consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, waterproof and stain-resistant fabrics, carpets, furniture, outdoor equipment, cleaning products, food packaging, and firefighting foams,” according to a staff analysis of the legislation.

“While U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily phased out use of the chemicals since the early 2000s, they persist in the environment, particularly at fire colleges, airports, and military installations,” the analysis says, adding that PFAS are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in common household goods.

In Florida, the state Department of Environmental Protection in February reported finding PFAS in three sampled public supply wells, 22 sampled fire training facilities, 15 sampled dry-cleaning sites, and 20 current and former federal facilities.

The federal facilities include military installations such as Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County, Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, MacDill Air Force Base in Hillsborough County, Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Naval Air Station Pensacola, and other bases outside Florida along the Gulf Coast, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research group.

PFAS are resistant to heat, water and oil, making them useful in consumer and industrial products, but that have been designated as Contaminants of Emerging Concern, meaning that may pose public health or ecological risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The chemicals do not break down in the environment nor in the human body, leading them to be dubbed “forever chemicals.”

The EPA says their use in household cleaners, non-stick cookware, and industrial operations has been linked to increased risk for kidney and testicular cancers, disruptions in fetal development and weakened immune systems.

The proposed committee bill, to be addressed in the legislative session beginning Jan. 11, would create a task force comprised of representatives of DEP, the Florida Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Emergency Management, and the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training. It also would include representatives of the Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties, Florida Water Environment Association, Florida Section of the American Water Works Association, Florida Airports Council, National Waste and Recycling Association, Florida Brownfields Association, Florida Ground Water Association, Florida Sunshine Chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the Manufacturers Association of Florida, and Florida Professional Firefighters.

Their mission would be to recommend enforceable regulatory standards for PFAS in drinking water, groundwater and soil; programs for identifying and cleaning up contaminated sites; ongoing testing, and elimination of workplace exposures in the manufacturing and firefighting sectors.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Committee is chaired by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Republican representing parts of Seminole and Volusia counties; the vice chair is Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orange County Democrat.

Meanwhile, the PFAS issue is being pursued in Congress as well. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 would allocate millions to cleaning up toxic chemicals at bases and extend a health study of the chemicals’ effects on people.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.