Bill to ban toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in firefighting foams passes Alaska House and Senate

Jesse Kiehl
Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, during a Senate floor session on May 15, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

A bill to ban harmful “forever chemicals” in firefighting foams passed the Alaska House and Senate by wide margins Wednesday. Now it’s on the way to Gov. Mike Dunleavy to be signed into law.

The legislation was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl of Juneau. It prohibits the use of firefighting foams containing a class of man-made chemicals known as PFAS, which have polluted drinking water across Alaska and the rest of the country.

Kiehl pushed for similar provisions last year, tucking them into a House bill that made it to the governor’s desk, but the governor vetoed it.

Exposure to even small doses of PFAS has been linked to health problems like liver damage, high cholesterol and various kinds of cancer. They’re known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment, leading to persistent pollution of water and soil. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced the first enforceable limits for PFAS in drinking water. Now, public water systems have five years to accomplish the expensive and complicated task of cleaning up their PFAS-contaminated water.

But Kiehl has said that the new state bill aims to prevent some of that pollution in the first place. In Alaska, firefighting foams, which are often used to fight fuel fires at airports or military bases, are believed to be the single biggest source of forever chemicals in the environment.

The bill also allows the state to buy back small quantities of PFAS foam for safe disposal.

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