DENVER — Between balancing work and family, life is all about convenience. The quicker someone can cook or clean, the quicker they can get back to the things that matter.
For years, Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances have made life convenient. The chemicals, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals, give pots and pans their non-stick properties. PFAS make fabric water-resistant and help emergency crews extinguish fires more quickly, among other things.
“I think it's the case with a lot of plastics and chemicals and compounds that, you know, when they were developed, it seemed like a great solution,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson.
Sometimes, though, convenience can come at the sake of something else. Take the case of Fountain, where an investigation found that the water supply had been contaminated by PFAS from the use of firefighting foam at a nearby military airfield.
“I've had my blood tested. I have over 20 parts per trillion of PFAS in my system. That's 20 times higher than the average person,” said Liz Rosenbaum, an El Paso County resident and a member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition.
The chemical has been linked to some cancers and health issues when someone is exposed to large quantities over a long period of time.
Dr. Detra Duncan, a Fountain city council member, says her husband was diagnosed with a cancer that neither side of his family has any history of. The couple has been living in the community for more than 30 years.
“I don't want what happened to our community to happen to another community,” Duncan said.
Colorado lawmakers have taken steps in the past to ban the use of some PFAS chemicals. A bill making its way through the legislature this year will begin phasing out the use of these chemicals from consumer products.
House Bill 22-1345 would prohibit the sale of carpets, cosmetics, cookware, fabric treatments, food packaging, children’s products, furniture and other items that have PFAS chemicals in them starting in 2024.
“It's become obvious that these are incredibly dangerous and toxic to human health,” said Cutter. “We're just trying to provide an off-ramp and dovetail with national efforts to eradicate PFAS.”
Last month, Burger King announced its intentions to stop using the chemical in its food packaging by 2025. The fast-food chain joins others like McDonalds, Wendy’s and Starbucks in moving away from the substance.
Cutter believes that proof that major companies can make the transition to protect the health of their customers.
“I don't think that any company should be allowed to knowingly put poison into the system, into our environment, into their consumers,” she said.
The bill faced its first committee test Thursday, where both Duncan and Rosenbaum testified about their own experience with PFAS, along with others.
Opponents, however, tried to draw a line between the type and abundance of PFAS in firefighting foam and the chemical makeup used in consumer products.
“As written, House Bill 22-1345 would jeopardize many of the important products Colorado families and businesses rely on every day," the American Chemistry Council said in a statement to Denver7. "PFAS chemistries are critical to many applications, such as solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, life-saving medical devices, and semiconductors."
ACC went on to say it supports science-based regulation of the chemical and is working with the Environmental Protection Agency on more regulatory efforts. The group says the Colorado bill in its current form would cause significant disruptions to the state.
The bill does not ban PFAS in solar panels, batteries, semiconductors or medical devices, but would have sweeping changes for consumer products. An amendment was added to limit the scope of some products affected and exempt industrial kitchens, for instance. However, opponents brought up concerns about how the bill could affect things like airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates a lot when it comes down to the construction of a plane, even the fabrics allowed for seat cushions.
Others tried to point out the difference between firefighting PFAS and the substances used in consumer products, and criticized the bill for being too broad or trying to regulate too much in one fell swoop.
“As written, the definition includes hundreds, if not thousands, of different chemistries with very different physical and chemical properties," Shawn Swearingen testified. "The definition should focus on specific chemistries of concern."
Nevertheless, supporters of the bill like Duncan and Rosenbaum say the legislation is necessary, and that safety needs to be the priority over convenience.
“I would really prefer to use a different cooking pan that's not going to give me cancer along with over-easy eggs,” Rosenbaum said.
A growing list of fire departments across the state are pre-empting the possibility by selling their firefighting foams that contain PFAS chemicals back to the state.
If the bill passes, Colorado would join states like California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington in placing more guardrails around the use of PFAS in consumer products.