Wisconsin’s first legislative effort to regulate hazardous “forever chemicals” moved a step closer to becoming law Wednesday.
The bill, authored by Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and approved Wednesday by the Assembly’s Environment Committee on an 8-1 vote, would limit where firefighters and others could test or train with foams containing highly fluorinated compounds known as PFAS, which have been found in drinking water across the state, including Madison’s.
The EPA is considering a rule to add some of the synthetic compounds to the list of chemicals that companies are required to track and report to the agency’s Toxic Release Inventory.
It would allow the use of such foam only in emergency fire response or in testing areas that the Department of Natural Resources determines have “appropriate containment, treatment, and disposal measures.”
The synthetic chemicals — also found in food packaging, non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, carpeting and other products — have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and other ailments.
Though the DNR and environmental advocates say the bill doesn’t go far enough, it is the Legislature’s first attempt to regulate the class of compounds known as “forever chemicals.”
Major industry groups — including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the American Chemistry Council and the Fluorocouncil, a trade group for companies that manufacture fluorinated compounds — all support the bill, which now heads to the full Assembly.
The Senate’s natural resources committee is expected to vote on a companion bill in early January.
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If passed, it could take up to a year and a half for the DNR to craft the rules to put protections in place.
Lawmakers on the Assembly committee acknowledged the need to do more.
“This is a good first step,” said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin. “We do need to go further.”
However, Republican-controlled committees have yet to schedule hearings for a Democratic bill that would require the DNR to establish enforcement standards for PFAS in air, water and soil and to hold polluters responsible for cleanup.
That bill, known as the CLEAR Act, has the support of environmental groups and the DNR but not manufacturing and industrial groups.
“If this is the only bill that passes this session, I will be disappointed,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. “This is one tool in a toolbox of many we should be passing in the session.”
Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, cast the only vote against the bill, saying the problem is too serious to put off until another session.
“We need to do something more … than a feel-good bill that’s picking at the edges,” Hebl said. “We really need to address it and we need to address it now.”