Cape and Islands state Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Kate Hogan of the 3rd Middlesex District have filed a bill to ban by 2030 a group of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that are in a long list of everyday products and that pose a serious danger to public health.
The pair co-chaired a state PFAS Interagency Task Force that published its final report last April. In addition to its findings, the task force published a list of 30 recommendations, several of which are included in the new bill.
“What we’re trying to do here is to both remediate the existing PFAS that’s in our environment and that we’re exposed to, and to stop it at the source by phasing it out in almost all consumer applications in the state on a pretty aggressive timeline,” Cyr told the Independent this week.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are manmade chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. They are found in nonstick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging like pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags, toys, carpeting, water-resistant clothing, and even cosmetics. They are called “forever” chemicals because they don’t break down entirely in the environment.
“Some of these chemicals can accumulate in our bodies, in some cases for years, and that’s concerning because exposures to certain PFAS chemicals have been linked to many harmful health effects,” said Laurel Schaider, a research scientist at Silent Spring Institute, in an interview last week. “These can include suppression of antibody response after routine vaccinations, elevated cholesterol, effects on the thyroid, liver, and kidneys, and, in high levels of exposure, certain types of cancer.”
According to PFAS-Reach, a research project led by Silent Spring Institute and Schaider in collaboration with Northeastern University and Michigan State University, people are exposed to PFAS through the water they drink, the food they eat, the products they use, and even the air they breathe.
Two years ago, the state Dept. of Environmental Protection set a maximum of 20 parts per trillion in drinking water supplies for six PFAS compounds.
Because there are thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, the proposed legislation would put a blanket ban on the whole class.
The bill starts with products known to have elevated levels of PFAS and that pose the greatest exposure risk, Cyr said. If enacted, the bill would ban the sale of a long list of consumer products with intentionally added PFAS by Jan. 1, 2026, including cookware, food packaging, children’s car seats and other children’s products, carpets, fabric treatments, upholstered furniture, personal care products, and firefighter protective gear.
“Intentionally added” in the bill means deliberately added for an intended function, such as to make fabric stain resistant or water repellent.
PFAS-containing products not banned by January 2026 would have to be clearly labeled, alerting purchasers to the presence of the chemicals, beginning in June of that year. The law would completely prohibit the sale of products with PFAS starting Jan. 1, 2030.
“This proposed legislation goes a long way, both to address existing PFAS contamination and also to turn off the tap on future contamination and exposures,” Schaider said.
Other provisions in the bill would require the Dept. of Environmental Protection to restrict industrial discharges of PFAS to ground and surface water and to institute quarterly testing of such discharges for PFAS.
The law would also provide money for testing and cleanup of PFAS through the establishment of trust funds that could assist towns, private well owners, and public water systems with the costs of remediation.
“The cost of this thing is going to be substantial,” Cyr said. “I think we’ll continue to appropriate some chunks of money for this. I expect that the biggest chunk of money will come through a settlement with manufacturers who have known about the adverse health effects of these forever chemicals for decades.”
Last May, Gov. Maura Healey, then serving as state attorney general, sued 13 companies that have manufactured a firefighting foam containing PFAS, including 3M and Dupont.
Schaider also cited a bill component related to community outreach and education as an important inclusion. “It has provisions for educational materials both for the general public as well as for medical professionals, and that is a huge need because doctors and other medical professionals often haven’t received training and aren’t really prepared to answer questions about PFAS,” Schaider said.
One of the highest priorities is the protection of pregnant women and nursing mothers, Cyr said. PFAS can pass from the mother to the fetus through the umbilical cord, and nursing babies can be exposed through breast milk or formula made with contaminated water.
On the Outer Cape, the most important sources for PFAS contamination are cesspools and septic systems, sites where Class B firefighting foam was used to put out a vehicle fire, and the use of consumer products containing PFAS, Cyr said.
To date, there have been a pair of instances, one in Wellfleet and one in Truro, of PFAS exceeding the state’s maximum of 20 parts per trillion in drinking water.
A well serving a private home on Chequessett Neck Road in Wellfleet contained 139 parts per trillion, nearly seven times the state’s limit, when tested last spring. That level is classified by DEP as an “imminent” health risk and therefore a high priority.
The wells of other homeowners in the area were tested, according to Edmund Coletta, the DEP’s public affairs director, and another showed levels above the state’s maximum.
“No source has been found at this time, but MassDEP continues to investigate,” Coletta said last week in an email.
Later that summer, two wells serving the Stone’s Throw condominiums in Truro showed levels edging up toward the state’s maximum. September samples showed 23 parts per trillion. A site discovery program has not been initiated by DEP because the agency has prioritized wells with concentrations exceeding 90 parts per trillion, Coletta said, but DEP continues to watch the location.
“Recent results from November, December, and January have all been below the standard, ranging from 19.8 to 16.1 ppt,” Coletta said.
While the bill is far-reaching, Schaider said it does not address the lack of access to PFAS blood testing. “There are not a lot of labs out there that can do this testing,” she said, “but even if a lab has the capacity, it still can be difficult for individuals to access.”
Doctors may not know how to order the tests, and they might not be covered by insurance, Schaider said. A single blood test for PFAS can cost hundreds of dollars.
If a blood test were to indicate high levels of PFAS, it would alert medical professionals to the possibility of elevated cholesterol or changes to the thyroid, Schaider said.