Legislation to prohibit the sale of firefighting foam that contains chemicals deadly to people and destructive to the environment was signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“This will limit contamination and exposure to these persistent chemicals, which build up in the environment and in our bodies,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim and the sponsor of Senate Bill 6413. “This is especially important for pregnant women and young children, as these chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system and impede fetal development.”

The chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), are commonly used to help fight fires at airfields and other places — including during frequent firefighter training drills — where petroleum-based fires pose a risk. PFAS have been found in wells used for drinking water on Whidbey Island, Issaquah, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Airway Heights near Fairchild Air Force Base. The chemicals also exist in equipment used by firefighters.

Studies in animals show that exposure to PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality. However, PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood, and exposure may be linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Beginning in July of 2020, Van De Wege’s bill:

  • Prohibits the sale, manufacture, and distribution of firefighting foam that has PFAS intentionally added;
  • Requires sellers of firefighting personal protective equipment containing PFAS to notify purchasers of the equipment; and
  • Punishes violations of the act with civil penalties up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for subsequent violations.

“The number-one cause of death of firefighters is cancer,” Van De Wege said. “By phasing out this foam, we can protect groundwater and the health of firefighters who regularly use this foam to suppress fires.”