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FILE - In this June 6, 2018, file photo, PFAS foam washes up on the shoreline of Van Etten Lake in Oscoda Township, Mich., near Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Twenty state agencies, along with the University of Wisconsin, worked on an action plan released Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' administration after more than a year of study of forever chemicals known as PFAS. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

The sale of many products containing the dangerous “forever chemicals” known as PFAS would be banned in Colorado as early as 2024, under legislation to be introduced this week and backed by a host of consumer and environmental groups.

Toxic PFAS chemicals, used as lubricants and repellants in products ranging from firefighting foam to clothing and cooking utensils, leak into groundwater and have been found in drinking water supplies in Colorado and across the country.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recently joined multiple states in suing the chemical manufacturers for decades of contamination that is proving exorbitantly expensive for state health departments and local water agencies to clean up. 

“We know these things are dangerous for our health. We know they are forever chemicals that are poisoning our water supply,” said Danny Katz, executive director of the nonprofit consumer group CoPIRG, in welcoming the bipartisan bill. “We need to act now to phase out as many of them as possible to protect our health and protect Colorado’s water.” 

The first sale ban would begin Jan. 1, 2024, for products with PFAS intentionally added in these categories: Carpets or rugs; cookware; cosmetics; fabric treatments; food packaging; juvenile products, oil and gas products; and textile furnishings. Through 2030, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be charged with identifying more categories of goods, and those would be added to the banned list. 

“I’d rather do the right thing, as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat who is one of the bill’s prime sponsors. “But because there are manufacturers and companies that have been using these products, we’re trying to allow a reasonable offramp.” 

The earliest categories are in businesses where alternatives to PFAS are already being developed, sponsors said.

Colorado may have the largest number of sites in the nation that have handled PFAS chemicals, due to firefighting drills and operations at military installations, mountain wildland firefighting, and from PFAS chemicals in firefighting and other industrial materials at oil and gas exploration sites. 

About 21,000 industrial sites in Colorado appear on the previously undisclosed EPA database of locations that “may be handling” PFAS, with more than 85% of those places related to oil and gas, and heavy concentrations of possible locations at the industry’s core in Weld County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which forced EPA to release the data.

The same properties that make PFAS a lubricant or seal cookware also make them resistant to long-term impacts of heat or water, conferring the moniker “forever chemicals.” CoPIRG and others say the chemicals have entered Colorado waterways and “polluted communities like Fountain, Frisco, parts of Denver, South Evergreen and Golden,” threatening serious health impacts. 

State health officials have launched a buyback program taking firefighting foam containing PFAS off the hands of local fire departments and replacing them with alternatives.

Consumer and environmental protection groups want the federal EPA to move faster to set absolute drinking water standards to force PFAS cleanups. Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment moved deeper into PFAS regulation when it demanded more monitoring of the chemicals coming off the Suncor Energy refinery in Commerce City. 

Colorado will for the first time monitor and limit runoff of PFAS at Suncor as part of the draft of the company’s water quality permit unveiled in November.

Regulators and consumers are finding out how ubiquitous PFAS chemicals are throughout industry and consumer goods, Katz said.

“We’ve targeted mostly firefighting foam in the past, but this bill will also get at a number of consumer products including things like carpets and rugs, furniture, cosmetics, food packaging, and even things like dental floss,” he said. “We want to phase those out.”

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that...