Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill, SB 310, that sought to regulate Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS. PFAS are a group of chemicals used for industrial purposes, such as in the manufacture of non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays, and certain types of firefighting foam.
Over the past several decades, PFAS have made their way into our environment through spills, wastewater, and use of the firefighting foams. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources is investigating more than 30 contamination sites. Previously unregulated, PFAS had been able to seep into waterways and personal use wells, affecting the greater ecosystem and putting the health of Wisconities in jeopardy. The Senate declared PFAS may only be used in cases of extreme emergency or when adequate cleanup supplies are in place. For multiple reasons, SB 310 falls short.
One of the most important omissions from the bill is the fact that PFAS chemicals have not been banned in nonstick cookware or food packaging. This means Wisconsinites will still come in contact with the PFAS frequently. The citizens of Wisconsin have the right to clean air, fresh water and unpolluted soil and allowing the continued use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam and other appliances not only infringes upon these rights but also puts lives in danger. While Senate Republicans have promised further action relating to PFAS, SB 310, as it stands, will continue to put lives in danger.
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Secondly, SB 310 offers no financial incentives to aid in the cleanup of previously polluted waters. Republican lawmakers have successfully partially banned a chemical without aiding in the clean up of affected waterways. Not only have they refused to fully ban the chemicals, they have not even allocated funds to ensure Wisconsin’s waters are kept clean and safe.
What purpose does SB 310 serve if it allows the continued use of these chemicals and will not aid in the cleanup of water that has the potential to sicken their own constituents?
Third, the 2019 bill called SB 302, which has been sitting on the back burner for over six months, not only bans PFAS but allows DNR to establish acceptable PFAS levels while also funding continued research and analysis. Essentially, SB 302 is a better version of the SB 310 bill. Yet, due to what can be assumed as a petty partisan divide, Republicans focus their efforts on passing a halfhearted bill that will endanger Wisconsinites rather than passing a bipartisan bill that will save lives.
The state of Wisconsin’s environment and drinking water should be of the utmost importance to state lawmakers, yet — as shown in this bill — unless a bill has a Republican author, it is unlikely to garner support in either chamber. While state lawmakers have pledged to introduce further bills to combat PFAS chemicals, why not create a singular, inclusive bill that aims to reduce the presence of PFAS, monitor the air, soil and water?
If only lawmakers had such a bill written last June delineating these exact conditions.
PFAS chemicals have long-term, damaging effects on the health of Wisconsin’s fish, citizens, and natural resources. There is an economic incentive to banning PFAS chemicals, a moral argument, and a common-sense justification. Regardless of party affiliation, all Wisconsinites fish in the same waterways, till the same soil, and breathe in the same air. PFAS chemicals need to be fully banned in the state.
William Keenan ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science.