Like Americans nationwide, Marylanders are expressing growing concern about the rising evidence of widespread PFAS contamination. The presence of these toxic “forever chemicals” in surface water and seafood is particularly resonant in Maryland, a state that prides itself on its iconic blue crab, oyster, and rockfish population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. So, it was especially exciting when, on April 21, Governor Larry Hogan signed into state law SB0273/HB0275, the George “Walter” Taylor Act, which curtails the introduction of new PFAS into the environment. PFAS, a class of toxics known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily, are used in a variety of products and have been linked to cancer and many other health harms.
The bill, named after a Maryland firefighter whose family believes he died of cancer caused by PFAS, restricts the introduction of new PFAS into the environment via three of the most significant sources—firefighting foam, food packaging, and rugs and carpets. It also requires disclosure of PFAS in firefighting gear and prevents the mass disposal of PFAS through incineration and landfilling. By doing so, the legislation blends best practices in PFAS restrictions from other states, including New York and California.
The campaign behind the successful legislation was led by NRDC and Maryland PIRG, which worked together to build a coalition of more than 40 other environmental, faith-based, and public health advocates, including the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, the NAACP State Conference, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The legislation was opposed by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council, and Maryland-based manufacturer W.L. Gore, makers of the popular Gore-Tex line, among others.
Despite the opposition, the legislation passed both the Maryland House and Senate unanimously and was signed by GOP Governor Hogan, who described it at the signing ceremony as one of his priorities and featured it in his social media. The broad-based bipartisan support for these PFAS restrictions is tremendously exciting and creates important precedents for additional PFAS legislation in Maryland and other states.
In the coming years, we will need to do everything we can to mitigate the growing threat to public health and the environment from PFAS contamination. And the signing of the George “Walter” Taylor Act is a huge leap in the right direction.