ALBANY — The use of certain chemicals in firefighting foam will be phased out in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill that would mandate fire departments to switch gradually to safer, alternative foams when fighting fires.
The foam in current use contains toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS chemicals, which have been linked to thyroid disease, decreased fertility, learning disabilities in children and increased risk of cancer. The man-made chemicals have been used in several industries since the 1940s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Spills of this foam have polluted New York’s drinking water from Newburgh to Long Island,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-27, said in a statement. “This new law...is the latest example of how our new majority...has been able to pass legislation to protect the public health and environment.”
In his approval letter, Cuomo said he fully supports the need to reduce the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS.
But he also indicated his approval of the bill is conditional upon an agreement he came to with the legislature on amending the bill.
“The bill...would also ban the use of all PFAS-containing firefighting agents when used to prevent or suppress fires from ignitable liquids as opposed to just flammable liquids,” Cuomo wrote. “For this type of fire there are not yet effective alternatives to PFAS.”
Because of the current lack of alternatives to fight ignitable liquid fires, Cuomo said the bill needs to be amended to allow state entities to make exceptions to the exempted use of foams containing PFAS in those cases. The exemption must be reevaluated every two years, and if PFAS-free foams become available, repealed.
“Today, we celebrate a victory for clean water,” said Rob Hayes, clean water associate for Environmental Advocates of New York. “Phasing out PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam will eliminate a major source of water pollution in New York State, resulting in cleaner and healthier drinking water for all residents.”
Liz Moran, environmental policy director for New York Public Interest Research Group, applauded Cuomo for signing the bill.
“New Yorkers across the state, from those in Hoosick Falls, to Newburgh, to Seneca Lake, to Long Island, spoke out against this dangerous class of chemicals and today their voices were heard,” she said in a statement. “The gift of clean water this holiday season is a precious one.”
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at email@example.com, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.