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Indiana punts on PFAS bill

Proposed law to narrow the definition of PFAS now floats in legislative limbo

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
March 4, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 7


Image of the Indiana State Capitol in Indianapolis.
Credit: Shutterstock
An Indiana Senate committee shelved a bill to exclude fluorinated polymers and gases from the definition of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

On Feb. 26, an Indiana Senate committee tabled H.B. 1399. If the bill had passed, the state would have excluded polymers, gases, and compounds that can become gases from the legal definition of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). But what’s puzzling to opponents of the bill, and to some Indiana state legislators, is why it’s needed at all. There is no language restricting the use of PFAS by manufacturers in Indiana code.

Proponents of the bill say it would protect current uses of polymeric PFAS, which they claim are safer than nonpolymeric compounds, and would eliminate confusion about which PFAS compounds are allowed to be manufactured and used in the state. Supporters include the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade group, which sent delegates to sessions in both the Indiana House and Senate to discuss the bill.

Opponents, including PFAS scientists at universities in Indiana and local conservation groups, say the state’s current definition of PFAS is adequate. If the US Environmental Protection Agency regulates the compounds in the future, they say, the state can make exceptions for PFAS needed for essential purposes, such as medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

It’s nuts that we would even entertain this in a state legislature.
Graham Peaslee, PFAS expert, University of Notre Dame

“It was a bill in search of something that’s not there,” says Rick Niemeyer (R), chair of the Indiana Senate Committee on Environmental Affairs, which oversaw the bill. House member Shane Lindauer (R) authored the bill, which the house passed in January. It then moved to the senate committee, which heard over 2.5 h of testimony Feb. 19.

Sen. Niemeyer says he understands both sides of the argument and doesn’t think the proponents are wrong. “But what I couldn’t get over is that we’re not doing anything to stop [manufacturers] right now.”

The chairman adjourned the committee meeting without calling for a vote on the PFAS bill. Since Indiana has a part-time legislature, it’s unlikely that any legislation about the definition of PFAS will move forward in 2024. The state General Assembly will adjourn for the year in mid-March. Rep. Lindauer did not respond to requests for an interview about the bill.

If the law had passed, Indiana would have defined PFAS differently than 23 other states that have set the legal definition of PFAS as compounds that have at least one fully fluorinated carbon atom. This is similar to the definition of PFAS included in legislation that Indiana passed last year to protect firefighters from toxic PFAS chemicals in their protective gear. Delaware and West Virginia have adopted definitions similar to those in the Indiana bill. The PFAS producer Chemours is based in Delaware and operates a facility in West Virginia.

There is not one definition of PFAS that the world agrees on. Some groups say PFAS only need one perfluorinated methyl or methylene group. Others say a compound needs to have two perfluorinated or fully fluorinated carbons in a row. The EPA used this C2 definition until recently but is now labeling compounds as PFAS on a case-by-case basis.

The PFAS scientific community accepts either the C1 or C2 version, according to Marta Venier, an environmental chemist who studies PFAS at Indiana University. Venier testified against H.B. 1399 at both the state house and senate committee hearings and is alarmed that the definition of a chemical compound is something legislators are arguing about.

“None of them is a chemist,” she says. “Why do they think they can change the definition?”

Graham Peaslee, a PFAS scientist at the University of Notre Dame, also testified against the bill at both hearings. “You can question whether [PFAS] should be C1 or C2; you can question whether all polymers are as dangerous as other ones. Those are all reasonable,” he says. But he says defining PFAS state by state makes no sense. “It’s nuts that we would even entertain this in a state legislature,” Peaslee says.

The ACC sees state legislation regulating PFAS as a threat to businesses that use fluoropolymers and is making an effort to speak to lawmakers. “The Indiana legislation is supported by a broad coalition and would focus the definition on those substances that could potentially lead to widespread human or environmental exposure,” an ACC representative tells C&EN in a written statement. “ACC will continue to advocate for a focused definition of PFAS wherever legislation may be considered that would define the class broadly.”

Although the Indiana bill seems dead for now, it may be resurrected when the legislature reconvenes, Niemeyer says. “We’ve got time to talk about it all summer.” The next session is scheduled to start in January 2025.



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