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Legislature considers proposals to ban toxic 'forever chemicals' from cosmetics, firefighter gear

Aisles of beauty and cosmetics products at a retail store.
Eric Gay
/
The Associated Press file
A shopper walks through the cosmetic department at a Target store in San Antonio.

Washington has led the nation in phasing out dangerous toxic chemicals found in products from food packaging to firefighting foam to automobile brake pads. Now, advocates are pushing for a law to keep the worst toxic chemicals out of cosmetics.

Proposed legislation would address nine kinds of toxic chemicals found in beauty products. They include the class of toxics known as PFAS, which are sometimes called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down, instead running off into watersheds and accumulating in sediments. PFAS can damage health with everything from immune suppression to cancer.

The bill also targets formaldehyde, another carcinogen, and phthalates, which can disrupt hormones.

“So, there's just a range of effects, and these are really unnecessary exposures,” says Laurie Valeriano, executive director of the Washington nonprofit Toxic-Free Future.

She says these cosmetics are unnecessary because alternative products exist; an entire industry of clean beauty products has emerged. And, in fact, other governments such as the European Commission have banned these toxics and more.

Her organization teamed up with the University of Washington and Indiana University on a recent peer-reviewed study of PFAS in breast milk. They took samples from 50 mothers and found PFAS in all of them. The study also found detections of PFAs overall were doubling every four years. Valeriano says that should impress upon legislators that the time for action is now.

”We need to be identifying those products — like cosmetics and apparel and other products that we come in contact (with) — and dramatically reducing them so we can reverse this disturbing trend of PFAS in our bodies and being passed on to our children,” Valeriano says.

”The state really needs to step in and address these chemicals as a first step to cleaning up the beauty products."

She says eight other states are currently considering similar legislation, which could ultimately drive federal policy.

A second bill before the Legislature would amend a law passed in 2019 to speed up the removal of high-priority toxic chemicals, including PFAS, from certain consumer products, such as firefighters’ uniforms.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.