For half a century, a group of fluorine-based chemicals was widely used to make everything from firefighting foams to nonstick frying pans, but recent evidence shows they persist in the environment, contaminate groundwater, accumulate in flesh and possibly cause cancer and other health dangers.
On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that would have Florida start looking at how to get rid of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and related chemicals possibly still in use in Florida, and those already contaminating facilities, soil and groundwater throughout the Sunshine State.
“If we think about the history of environmental hazards in America, there are some big ones that come up. We know about asbestos. We know about vinyl chloride. We all saw ‘Erin Brockovich,'” Sen. Jason Brodeur said in introducing Senate Bill 7012. “These are all things that over time we have said, ‘We probably shouldn’t have let these chemicals become as ubiquitous as they have.'”
“PFAS is the next big one. It is our generation’s big ‘forever chemical,'” said Brodeur, the committee’s chair and a Republican from Sanford.
SB 7012, introduced as a committee bill Tuesday, would create a PFAS Task Force within the Department of Environmental Protection. That panel would be directed to develop recommendations on:
— Enforceable regulatory standards for PFAS in drinking water, groundwater, and soil.
— A mechanism for the identification and cleanup of contaminated areas.
— How to address liability for contamination and financial responsibility for cleanup.
— Appropriate methods and technologies, considering cost, for cleanup and treatment of PFAS contamination.
— Funding sources and mechanisms for prioritizing the distribution of funds for cleanup and remediation of PFAS contamination.
— Methods to manage waste containing PFAS to prevent possible release or discharge into the environment that could cause contamination of drinking water, groundwater, and soil.
— Appropriate testing for and monitoring of PFAS in drinking water, groundwater, and soil to protect the public health and welfare.
— Methods to eliminate workplace exposure in the manufacturing industry.
Although they no longer are manufactured in the United States, PFAS still are produced internationally and can be imported in a variety of consumer goods, according to the committee’s staff analysis for SB 7012. Health effects from PFAS potentially include increased risk of certain cancers, increased cholesterol levels, liver and kidney damage, impacts on hormones and the immune system, and fetal and infant developmental effects, according to the analysis.
To date there are no federal regulations regarding PFAS contamination or cleanup, though there are guidelines. The federal Environmental Protection Agency released some guidance and recommendations in 2019 and earlier this year.
The bill’s analysis says that Florida DEP so far has detected PFAS contamination in three areas of public water supply wells; 22 areas of certified fire training facilities; 27 areas of select state cleanup program sites; 15 areas of select dry-cleaning program sites; and 20 current and former federal facilities.
PFAS contamination is particularly likely to be found in large concentrations in fire colleges, airports, and military installations, where, in some circumstances, the chemicals still are used in firefighting foams, the analysis states.
Consequently, concern may be highest for firefighters. As a result, a seat was reserved Tuesday on the task force for a firefighter representative, along with representatives from the state departments of Environmental Protection, Health, Agriculture and Consumer Services, Fire Standards and Training, and 10 interest groups.