Op/Ed: Ditch forever chemicals forever

By Kristine Howard, State Representative, 167th District

State Rep. Kristine Howard

Since the 1940s, the use of a group of toxic man made chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been increasingly used in numerous consumer goods and industrial processes. From degreasing pots and pans to making pants stain-resistant, PFAS use has proliferated over the past eight decades.

While these so-called forever chemicals may provide short-term convenience, they accumulate over time, both in the environment and in the human body. They also have been linked to adverse health effects in humans, such as increased cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, fetal development issues and weakened immune systems. Further, research suggests these forever chemicals can lead to reproductive issues, liver issues, asthma and cancer.

As food is often contaminated by PFAS through the unnecessary addition of these chemicals to the packaging, I introduced legislation last year to prohibit the sale, distribution and manufacturing of any food packaging containing PFAS in Pennsylvania.

While eliminating these forever chemicals from food packaging is a small step, it would be a significant one toward protecting ourselves and our environment. Thankfully, my legislation is not the only proposal out there.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in 2018 establishing the PFAS Action Team and tasking them with managing environmental contamination and ensuring that our drinking water is safe. As an outgrowth of this effort, the PA Department of Environmental Protection has proposed a new rule that would set Maximum Contaminant Levels in drinking water for two varieties of PFAS – perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid – to protect Pennsylvanians from the myriad health issues these chemicals are known to cause.

The DEP’s proposed rule would set stricter limits than the United States Environmental Protection Agency and would position Pennsylvania as a national leader.

Through this combination of legislation, gubernatorial action, and industrial regulation, we can make meaningful and much-needed progress towards ditching forever chemicals forever.

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