New York already prohibits PFAS in several product types. But new proposed rules would cover a substantially larger group of products and focus on determining where PFAS is coming from in the first place.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

February 22, 2024

6 Min Read
Justin Long / Alamy Stock Photo

New York has passed several bills cracking down on PFAS, and now policymakers are pushing to further tighten the reins on these chemicals found in thousands of products and associated with multiple health problems. 

New York already prohibits PFAS in several product types. But new proposed rules would cover a substantially larger group of products and focus on determining where PFAS is coming from in the first place. There are three bills that collectively target consumer and household products, personal care and cosmetics, and menstrual products, as well as would require tracking PFAS in effluent released in waterways.

A growing number of states are spearheading regulatory work around these “forever chemicals” [they don’t break down], often prompted by a crisis in their communities, as happened in New York several years ago. These contaminants were detected in the village of Hoosick’s public drinking water and private drinking water wells that far exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory level. Investigators linked the PFAS to past manufacturing sites, leading to multimillions in compensation to thousands of property owners.

New York Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a lead sponsor of two of the bills, became aware of PFAS and their potential risks a few years ago after getting complaints from environmental advocacy groups.

“We first took meaningful action in 2019 when we passed my bill to ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. The next year we banned PFAS in food packaging and later expanded by banning PFAS in clothing manufacturing,” Hoylman-Sigal wrote to Waste360.

“The more I learned about just how many everyday household items contained PFAS, and how dangerous these chemicals can be for our bodies and our planet, the more committed I became to doing everything possible to limit the use of PFAS in New York State,” he says.

Hoylman-Sigal calls out protection of youth as the most important aspect of the package of bills. These chemicals have been linked to childhood leukemia, decreased bone health in adolescents, and low birth weight.

“Any step we can take to remove disease-causing chemicals from products that our loved ones use every day is an important one,” he says. 

Elizabeth Reyes, Toxics Policy Campaigns coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, points to a demographic beyond children who are especially impacted.

“Studies are finding that race and product use by race are key factors in determining levels of exposure to these harmful chemicals. That is why we urge New York State to pass these bills, which will reduce PFAS exposure for all New Yorkers – and especially those who already face higher rates of exposure to nearly all toxic chemicals,” Reyes says.

Many states have discovered PFAS runoff from firefighting foam that airports and the military have commonly used. In New York firefighting foam at the Stewart Air National Guard Base contaminated the city of Newburgh, prompting the state to ban PFAS in this specific application, as about 20 states have done, according to Kate Donovan, Northeast Regional Lead of Environmental Health at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC, an international environmental nonprofit, is actively involved in supporting multiple jurisdictions working to regulate PFAS.

“We focus on states because we find that they are the incubators of policy that pushes the needle and can hopefully push the federal government into action,” Donovan says.

NRDC has been especially vocal in New York and California because they are large markets and seen as having more influence in terms of setting precedence for other states.

Many jurisdictions are concentrating their efforts on setting maximum contaminant levels of PFAS allowed in drinking water. But until they start focusing their efforts upstream, exposure through water systems will remain a problem, Donovan says.

Over 3,400 public water systems that serve millions of New Yorkers have tested positive for PFOS and PFOA. And the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that at least 45 percent of the country’s tap water contains PFAS.

“We think it’s important to understand exactly where this contaminated water is coming from, so we know what industries are using it and how to address it,” Donvan says.

This mindset is the impetus behind the proposed New York bill  to regulate PFAS discharge whereby facilities would be required to test for and disclose the presence of these toxins in their effluent.

A growing number of states are restricting PFAS by individual product types, such as cooking ware, textiles, or dental floss. But two states—Maine and Minnesota— have taken a different governing approach.

They are banning nonessential use of PFAS, meaning the chemicals can be incorporated in products only when no alternatives exist to enable them to maintain their functionality. So rather than go after products one at a time, entire product sectors would be banned where PFAS is considered nonessential, an approach that NRDC and other environmental advocates prefer.

Charles E. Moon, a South Bronx pediatrician involved in the New York State Academy of Pediatrics’ environmental health and climate change work, has been advocating for the state’s proposed PFAS legislation.

“Often the social determinants of health are impacted by systems issues that individual physicians can’t tackle by themselves. And PFAS pollution is a systemic issue because everyone is exposed to it, and we have no way to treat it or remove it from the body. So, to reduce PFAS exposure, we have to stop it at the source,” Moon says.

Advocates aligning on this belief are pushing for policy that takes a hard stand on upstream practices.

“We just keep adding to the problem by using and manufacturing PFAS. Downstream problems like [PFAS-laden] landfill leachate and sewage sludge [applied to land as fertilizer] can’t be addressed until we address the root cause of the problem,” Donovan says.

For now, on the federal front, EPA is homing in on downstream measures, proposing stringent drinking water standards (4 parts per trillion) for some PFAS—there are an estimated 15,000 of them. And the agency is working to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). But the wheels have been slow to turn. Federal policy has been in the works for years, with the agency most recently announcing it hopes to finalize these two rules some time in 2024.

“I am still hopeful that the EPA will take meaningful action to restrict PFAS nationwide, but we cannot wait around,” Hoylman-Sigal says.

“We have an opportunity here in New York State to ban the use of chemicals that are known to pollute our air and water and cause serious diseases. We must take that opportunity as soon as we can, and hopefully the federal government will follow our lead.”

The New York bills were introduced in the last legislative session and are working their way through the committee process in the Assembly and Senate. Though the menstrual bill has passed the Senate floor.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

Stay in the Know - Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Join a network of more than 90,000 waste and recycling industry professionals. Get the latest news and insights straight to your inbox. Free.

You May Also Like