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Senate passes PFAS ban

Joel McCord/WYPR

Maryland’s Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to ban Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of human-made chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause harmful health effects in humans.

The bill banning the substances is named for former Calvert County firefighter George Walter Taylor, who died of cancer in 2020 at the age of 46. An autopsy determined the cancer was caused at least partially by the PFAS found in firefighting foam and in the gear that he had used since he became a volunteer firefighter when he was 15.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down. They are found not only in firefighting foam, but also in food containers and even carpeting.

They create a barrier between grease and oil and whatever is beneath it. They prevent greasy food from leaking through takeout containers and they smother fires.

The bill generated no debate during Tuesday’s Senate floor session. Sen. Jack Bailey, a Calvert County Republican who represented Mr. Taylor, hailed the lawmakers who worked on the bill.

“It’s time to ensure that this dangerous chemical no longer poses such a risk to Marylanders, particularly our firefighters,” he said.

Firefighters had lobbied heavily for the bill.

Grant Walker, of the Maryland Professional Firefighters Association told a news conference prior to one of the hearings on the bill that cancer has replaced cardiac events as the leading cause of death in firefighters over the last 20 years. And he blamed PFAS.

He praised a bill passed last year that banned the use of the chemical in firefighter training and called this year’s measure to completely ban the foam a top priority for his group.

“It is the next logical step to eliminating these cancer causing agents from a firefighters everyday life,” he said.

A similar bill is awaiting action in the House of Delegates.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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