Maryland One of Several States Looking to Ban “Forever Chemicals”

With toxic chemicals turning up in drinking water throughout Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan recently signed a bill that bans the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, in paper products for food packaging, rugs and carpets, and in firefighting foams. The restrictions will take effect on January 1, 2024.

Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAs are a group of human-made chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency says can have a harmful impact on human and animal health. The chemicals have also been found in Maryland’s marine life, including rockfish, oysters, and crabs.

What are PFAs?

PFAs are used in coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Found in a wide range of everyday products, PFAs help prevent food from sticking to cookware, they make clothes and carpets stain-resistant, and they help create more effective fire-fighting foam.

PFA molecules consist of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. The strength of this carbon-fluorine bond means the chemicals don’t degrade in the environment (which is why they’re known as “forever chemicals”). In fact, the chemicals are so resistant to breaking down that scientists are unable to determine an environmental half-life for PFAs, which refers to the amount of time it takes for 50 percent of the chemical to disappear.

PFAs have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, with several industries relying on their use, including aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and the military.

Why are PFAs harmful?

Because of their ubiquity in a range of consumer products and their resistance to breaking down, PFAs are found everywhere: in bodies of water (including lakes and rivers), within the air, and in soil. PFAs have also been found in low levels in a variety of food products. Humans and animals become exposed to the chemicals when they ingest PFA-contaminated water or food; exposure may also happen when people use products containing the chemicals. Most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAs and have the chemicals in their blood.

Scientific studies have shown that human exposure to high levels of certain types of PFAs may be linked to harmful health effects, including:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women
  • Small decreases in infant birth weight
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer

Studies of PFAs on lab animals have found that the chemicals cause birth defects, delayed development, and newborn deaths in lab animals. According to one study, PFAs pass through the placenta throughout pregnancy to accumulate in fetal tissue (further research is needed to determine the effect that highly persistent PFAs have on the fetus.)

Are other states looking to ban PFAs?

Nearly three dozen states are considering new laws and policies to tighten regulation of toxic chemicals, and PFAs are at the top of the list. At least 10 states are expected to consider regulations or restrictions on “unnecessary uses” of PFAs in carpets or other products or will require disclosure when the chemicals are used. Aside from Maryland, other states looking at reining in use of PFAs in commercial products include Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, and New York, among others.

About Waters Kraus & Paul

Waters Kraus & Paul is a national plaintiffs’ law firm devoted to helping families in personal injury and wrongful death cases involving asbestos and mesothelioma, benzene exposure, dangerous pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and birth defects caused by pesticides, toxic chemicals, opioid use, and semiconductor chip manufacturing. The law firm also represents plaintiffs in qui tam whistleblower matters and cases that uncover false claims submitted to the government. Based in Dallas, Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, California, New Orleans, Louisiana, and by appointment in Moline, Illinois, Waters Kraus & Paul has represented families from all fifty states and many foreign countries, as well as foreign governments.