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Bills seek to ban 'forever chemicals' from more products in Minnesota

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a group of chemicals used in products like nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers and cosmetics, but increasing evidence suggests they are harmful to humans and the environment.

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Minnesota-based 3M agreed to pay the city of Bemidji $12.5 million to build and support a new water treatment facility after the city found PFAS in its water supply. The contamination was linked to fire extinguishing foam used by local fire departments training at the regional airport.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer
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ST. PAUL — A group of bills before the Minnesota Legislature aims to expand the list of products banned from containing “forever chemicals,” substances that remain and accumulate in the environment that have been linked to cancer and low birth weights.

Three bills introduced by Rep. Ami Wazlawik, DFL-White Bear Township, would ban chemicals known as PFAS from cosmetics, cookware and ski wax. The push to ban more products comes after Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation in 2021 banning the use of PFAS in food packaging.

At a hearing in the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 23, Democratic lawmakers voted to advance the bills to the next committee. One Republican sided with Democrats on the cookware bill, but the votes were otherwise split on party lines.

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Rep. Ami Wazlawik, DFL-White Bear Township
Paul Battaglia

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a group of chemicals used for their slippery and water-resistant properties. They’re used in products such as nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers, pizza boxes and cosmetics such as eyeliner and foundation, but increasing evidence suggests they are harmful to humans and the environment.

“These chemicals can build up or bioaccumulate in the human body over time, and as I said earlier, they are very persistent and are called forever chemicals because of that,” Wazlawik said, adding that negative health impacts can be avoided by limiting human exposure. “The best way to do this is to prevent the chemicals from getting into the environment or being used in products that we come in contact with.”

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At her bills' most recent hearing, Wazlawik said she was concerned about direct exposure to PFAS through products like food and cosmetics, but also pointed out that many products end up in landfills where the chemicals can continue to seep into the environment. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency warned last year that nearly every closed landfill in the state is leaking PFAS into groundwater sources, Forum News Service previously reported. More than half of the 110 landfills monitored by the agency caused unsafe levels of drinking water contamination in 41 counties.

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Image provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Over recent decades, peer-reviewed studies have shown that exposure to PFAS could be linked to decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women, low birth weights, hormonal interference, reduced vaccine response, as well as a heightened risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancer.

Minnesota's pollution control agency says PFAS contamination in fish is “pervasive” across Minnesota. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued its first-ever PFAS fish consumption advisory last year for Lake Superior smelt, recommending no more than one meal a month.

PFAS are also found in fire extinguishing foams often used to fight flammable liquid-based fires at airports and military bases. Many military bases are linked to contamination of nearby groundwater. In March 2021, Minnesota-based 3M agreed to pay the city of Bemidji $12.5 million to build and support a new water treatment facility after the city found PFAS in its water supply. The contamination was linked to fire extinguishing foam used by local fire departments training at the regional airport.

The same year, 3M also agreed to an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota after the state sued the company alleging its manufacturing of PFAS had damaged water and natural resources in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. About $720 million of that settlement will go toward drinking water and natural resource programs in the eastern metro.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October 2021 announced plans to address the issue of PFAS contamination . The agency said it will expand cleanup efforts and aim to limit the release of PFAS in the environment.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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