States Taking the Lead: 5 Key Takeaways from 2023 Legislative Sessions
July 20, 2023
As most states have now wrapped up their legislative sessions, we’ve found that states across the nation have adopted a range of innovative policies to combat toxic chemicals and incentivize the adoption of safer solutions.
So far this year, 17 states have adopted at least 35 policies that help transform our economic system to better protect communities and create incentives for industry to develop safer chemicals and materials. As reported in the Washington Post in June, states continue to take the lead when it comes to public health protections from toxic chemicals.
Five important key takeaways emerged from this year’s finished state legislative sessions.
1) Transformative policies have traction.
Minnesota adopted the nation’s broadest PFAS policy package. The law restricts all unnecessary PFAS uses by 2032, bans use in 13 product categories starting in 2025 (including first-in-the-nation bans in menstrual products, cleaning ingredients, cookware, and dental floss), and requires companies to disclose the presence of PFAS in any product by 2026. The policy combines approaches taken in multiple states including Colorado, California, and Washington, where specific PFAS-containing product categories have been banned, with Maine’s approach of requiring disclosure of PFAS and banning all unavoidable uses within the decade. Minnesota’s law was renamed Amara’s Law after Amara Strande, a 20-year-old activist who was fighting cancer after living on a PFAS plume for her whole life. As told in this Washington Post story, Amara sadly passed before the bill became law, but leading advocates—including her family and Clean Water Action Minnesota—worked hand-in-hand with lawmakers to ensure this bill became law.
In recognition of the importance for states to work together to solve the PFAS crisis, Maine adopted a policy this year to streamline the implementation of their PFAS law to harmonize with Minnesota and avoid duplication of efforts. Maine also adopted a first-in-the-nation bill that requires any person that extracts water in Maine for the purposes of selling it as bottled water to test that water for PFAS and to disclose the results.
Firefighters were also critical in securing policies that make firefighting safer and protect community water systems. Minnesota’s law was buoyed by firefighter support which ensured that firefighting foam was included in the state’s ban and in Indiana, their leadership led to a new labeling policy indicating the presence of PFAS in firefighting gear.
On the other side of the country, the Oregon legislature passed the Toxic Free Kids Modernization Act and it is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. The policy strengthens and modernizes the Toxic-Free Kids Act that was passed in 2015 by allowing the Oregon Health Authority to regulate toxic chemicals by class and streamlines business reporting requirements.
2) Broad toxic chemical bans in cosmetics and other personal care products are gaining momentum in states.
As we predicted earlier this year, tackling toxic chemicals in cosmetics was a key focus area for several state policies. Washington State made history by adopting a broad policy banning some of the most concerning chemicals in cosmetic and personal care products, including PFAS, phthalates, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde-releasing agents. The new policy will also fill important gaps in information on the hazards of chemicals used in cosmetics. The policy will also provide support for small businesses as they transition to safer cosmetics.
In parallel, Oregon passed a bill mirroring WA’s policy and Governor Tina Kotek is expected to sign it into law. If adopted, all three west coast states (WA, OR, and CA) would all have policies that regulate toxic chemicals in personal care products.
Additionally, New York banned mercury in personal care products, while Nevada adopted a policy that mandates the disclosure of all ingredients in feminine hygiene products.
3) States are increasingly addressing toxic plastics and packaging.
In response to the pressing issue of plastic pollution and its impact on public health, states are looking for ways to proactively address toxic plastics and packaging. Rhode Island adopted a ban on polystyrene in food packaging, Oregon banned polystyrene foam containers and PFAS in food packaging, and Minnesota restricted PFAS in packaging for cannabis products.
Oregon also adopted a law enabling consumers to use their own containers for refilling while Washington state adopted a policy promoting the use of reusable water bottles by mandating the construction of bottle-filling stations in applicable construction projects. Refill policies such as these encourage a shift towards reusable alternatives and reduce the reliance on single-use plastics. Additionally, states considered strategies to eliminate toxic plastics and chemicals from packaging. California and Maine both introduced policies to phase out unnecessary and problematic plastics in packaging, particularly those associated with health harms like polyvinyl chloride. While these policies did not get across the finish line this year, they signal new momentum toward eliminating the most toxic plastics and plastic additives.
4) EPA is following state action on PFAS in drinking water and states are continuing to fund cleanup.
Years of state leadership on PFAS in drinking water increased pressure for federal action. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced drinking water standards for six individual PFAS “forever chemicals”. While news of federal action is important, states continue to take further action by appropriating resources. States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin allocated budget funding to address PFAS contamination today.
Recently, Maine finalized a $70 million plan to help farmers and residents in neighboring communities affected by the contamination caused by the application of PFAS-contaminated sludge on farmlands.
5) State Attorneys General are taking legal action against chemical manufacturers.
Holding polluters accountable continues to be at the forefront. Within the span of a few weeks, the state attorneys general of Arizona, Arkansas, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington all filed litigation against PFAS manufacturers for their role in contaminating drinking water and harming communities. Currently, a total of 24 states have initiated legal action against such companies.
Additionally, 17 states (AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MD, MA, MI, NJ, NY, NC, OR, PA, WA, and DC) have filed comments to the EPA supporting the agency’s proposal to set enforceable drinking water standards for six PFAS chemicals. The comment letter also urged EPA to take further and swift action considering the “substantial threats to public health and the environment from PFAS”.
States remain at the forefront of a nationwide movement advocating for safer chemicals and materials. We anticipate this momentum to continue in the states that still have active legislative sessions. Check out Safer State’s bill tracker to keep up to date on adopted and moving state legislative policies.