Bills would ban ‘forever chemicals’ from cosmetics, cookware, ski wax

Hands wearing blue gloves holds a water sample in small plastic bottle.
Minnesota Department of Health student paraprofessional Carolyn Enright holds a water sample from a private well in West Lakeland Township, Minn., in November 2019, during an effort to identify areas that may have been impacted by PFAS contamination.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

After the Minnesota Legislature passed a ban on so-called “forever chemicals” in food packaging last year, a DFL lawmaker wants to extend the ban on PFAS to more consumer products — cosmetics, cookware and ski wax.

The bills, authored by Rep. Ami Wazlawik of White Bear Township, Minn., cleared their first hurdle in the state House last week.

The large class of chemicals — PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are known for their durability. They've been found in the environment, wildlife and humans around the globe.

Studies have linked some PFAS to human health issues, including kidney and thyroid problems and some cancers.

Wazlawik told the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee that her bills would help eliminate nonessential uses of PFAS that risk human exposure.

“PFAS is a persistent chemical,” Wazlawik said. “It gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates. There's also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.”

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Many people aren’t aware that PFAS are in products they use frequently, Deanna White, state director for Clean Water Action, told the committee.

"Most folks are pretty alarmed to find out how much PFAS they are exposed to on a daily basis through common products, like mascara or the pan you cook your morning eggs in or the ski wax that you apply before you go out and enjoy nature,” she said.

Some ski wax manufacturers, such as Swix, no longer make fluorinated ski wax, which is designed to make skis faster by increasing their glide over the snow. Many ski associations and races also have banned their use. 

Five containers of ski wax sit on a shelf.
Ski wax companies are manufacturing more lines of high-performing ski wax like these that do not contain PFAS chemicals.
Courtesy image

“Fluorinated ski wax may give ski racers an edge, but the wax flakes off and it ends up contaminating snow and soil,” said Lori Olinger with the Sierra Club’s Northstar chapter. “Handling fluorinated ski wax and breathing fumes as you apply it to your skis is also a hazard, especially for wax technicians.”

Recent research in Maine, Norway and Sweden found high levels of various PFAS chemicals in the snow where ski-racing events were held, Wazlawik said. 

“We all know that PFAS is very mobile,” she said. “Eventually, the snow will melt, and that water from the snow can move through the ground and transport that PFAS through the ground into groundwater.”

The bills face opposition from chemical manufacturers and industry groups, who say they're too broad.

Tony Kwilas, environmental policy director for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that there are more than 4,000 different PFAS, and not all have adverse effects. 

PFAS have thousands of uses, including in medical devices, automobiles, airplanes, solar panels and cellphones, Kwilas said, and not all have approved alternatives.

“I don't think this can be solved at the local or state level, or by banning individual products.” he said.

Republican Rep. Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa raised questions about businesses facing fines or civil penalties – possibly up to $10,000 a day – if they’re found to have violated the law by distributing or selling products that contain the chemicals.

Heintzeman said many Republicans are concerned about PFAS and believe they are a “dangerous problem,” but feel they should be addressed at the federal level.

“Having a patchwork of law all over the United States – every state passing their list of products that fall into a category that they find to be objectionable or not – seems to be a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Wazlawik said the federal government has been slow to take action on PFAS, and she doesn’t believe Minnesota should wait. She noted that Maine recently passed a broad ban on non-essential uses of PFAS in products.

The bills face an uncertain path in the Senate, where there currently are no companion bills.