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Persistent Pollutants

California bans PFAS firefighting foams

State also prohibits 24 chemicals from use in cosmetics

by Cheryl Hogue
October 1, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 38


Photo shows two firefighters in full protective gear holding a large hose spewing foam on a fire.
Credit: Shutterstock

California is halting the sale, manufacture, and use of firefighting foam that contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as of 2022. Colorado, New Hampshire, New York, and Washington have enacted similar bans; California is the largest US market to do so.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Sept. 29 banning these foams in the state, with limited exceptions. The advocacy organization Environmental Working Group estimates that 7.5 million Californians have toxic nonpolymeric PFAS in their drinking water at a level of at least 1 part per trillion, with much of this contamination linked to the use of firefighting foam.

The new law also requires those selling firefighting gear to notify purchasers whether the protective equipment contains added PFAS. Fluorinated compounds in water-resistant textiles that firefighters wear break down over time and could expose these first responders to PFAS.

Newsom also signed legislation Sept. 30 that bans the use of 24 chemicals in cosmetics starting in 2025. The substances, which include formaldehyde, mercury, several PFAS, two parabens, and two phthalates, are proscribed from cosmetics in the European Union. The California legislature says it intends to continue banning cosmetic ingredients that the EU prohibits.


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