DFL lawmakers push to restrict use of 'forever chemicals'

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 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Minnesota DFL lawmakers hope to take action this session to further restrict so-called “forever chemicals.”

At a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol, DFL legislators said they’ll push to ban non-essential uses of PFAS in products such as carpet, cleaning products, cosmetics and ski wax.

“Right now, the bathtub is overflowing in the number of products that we have in everyday life,” said Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter. “We have to stop adding to the problem if we hope to turn the tide on this issue.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, don’t break down in the environment or the human body. Some have been linked to health effects such as cancer, kidney and thyroid problems and low birth weight.

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A woman speaks at a podium.
Amara Strande, a cancer patient who grew up in Oakdale, Minn., gave testimony at a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday.
Screengrab from Minnesota House of Representatives video

During emotional testimony at the press conference, 20-year-old Amara Strande pleaded with lawmakers to take action. She grew up in Oakdale, where the water supply was contaminated with PFAS produced by 3M. 

At age 15, Strande was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer with no cure. She's endured numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

“Through no fault of my own, I was exposed to these toxic chemicals. And as a result, I will die with this cancer,” Strande said. “My life has been forever changed by this disease, and the physical and emotional toil it has taken on me and my loved ones is unimaginable.”

Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, said after breastfeeding her children when they were infants, it caused her despair to learn how pervasive PFAS are.

“I didn't think I needed to research what kind of nonstick pan I was going to be using, or where I should or shouldn't eat when I needed to grab a fast meal,” she said. “But our government has failed us. We've allowed large companies to dictate what is available and allowable in our water, our air and our food. And now we are forced to pay the price.”

Hollins is author of a bill that would require manufacturers to disclose when PFAS are added to their products.

Another bill would further restrict the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS. It’s already prohibited during training, but the bill authored by Rep. Matt Norris, DFL-Blaine, would ban the use of PFAS foam in all situations except when required by federal law.