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Colorado will start putting one of country's most comprehensive PFAS laws into effect next year

A deep dive into the EPA's new proposal on PFAS regulation in water supply
A deep dive into the EPA's new proposal on PFAS regulation in water supply 03:04

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday produced limits on PFAS known as "forever chemicals" in drinking water. It provides guidance for water systems trying to figure out to what level it should limit the presence of the chemicals, which have been connected to serious illnesses including cancer. It will likely mean the addition of costly filtering for many water providers.

But the chemicals which are known to resist water and oils, have been used for decades in a variety of products.

"Unfortunately we've got to get at the front of it," said Danny Katz of the nonprofit Colorado Public Interest Research Group. One of the big sources of PFAS contamination in water supplies has been firefighting foam. For the most part the foams used today do not contain PFAS, but it is still used at times for certain fires. The chemicals still serve a purpose in many consumer products and many times consumers are not aware.

"It's a high likelihood that it's in things that are water resistant and stain resistant. And so it does help to look for labels, but it's not the answer or the solution," said Katz.

"Drinking water is one and something the most important source of exposure for these chemicals. But it's not the only one," said Christopher Higgins, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Colorado School of Mines. "The reality is these compounds have been used in so many different things for so many different places over so many different years. They are pretty much in everything."

PFAS are well known in products like Teflon, less well known in things like carpeting and clothing, where it is used for its water, oil and stain resistance. PFAS come in many different formulations and are not a single chemical.

"You can see labels that point out one or two of those chemicals are not in that product, but it doesn't mean that some of the others are not in that product," said Katz.

In addition, it has gotten into fish in many waterways where it is found.

"Fish tend to accumulate these chemicals," said Higgins.

Fisherman Jimmy Ticatic, who was casting a fly line in Denver's Confluence Park on Tuesday, said he had caught good trout there because it's stocked.

"They're beautiful fish I'd love to eat them and I thought about it a couple of times," he mused.

But he has not. He wore a weather resistant coat.

"And I know there's like the eco-friendly alternative, but they're always so much more expensive so that's going to be a big change for the consumers you know."

If nothing else, because it has been an easy addition for companies making products where adding water and oil resistance is a benefit. REI announced recently it would phase out the sales of many of its products containing PFAS. Denver based VF Corporation, the manufacturer of numerous outdoor brands like North Face, plans to stop the use of PFAS in its products by 2025.

"It's worth noting that less than 5% of all VF brand products contain any PFAS-based chemistry and are used to meet customer expectations around performance in extreme conditions and/or workwear requirements," said company spokesman Colin Wheeler via email.

The State of Colorado will start putting one of the country's most comprehensive PFAS laws into effect next year.

"We'll see things like textiles, juvenile products and food packaging. Those are the things that will no longer be able to have PFAS. And then the next year there'll be furniture and furnishings; indoors and then eventually outdoor furniture and furnishings," said Kata.

There will be a requirement that cookware using PFAs be labelled. But many other products may still have PFAS without labeLling requirements.

"Our understanding of the toxicity and the health impacts is really only evolved significantly over the last decade or so," noted Higgins.

Changing firefighting foam and practices has been one action taken, but with the EPA's proposal of water regulations, it's still possible more regulation of PFAs might still be to come.

"This isn't something we can solve by just choosing the right article of clothing or the right rug. This is really something that we need to get out from the beginning. You know not have it in any products and to the extent that it's in our communities make sure that our water systems are filtering it out the best that they can," said Katz.

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