Clothes, cookware, floss: Colorado law to ban everyday products with PFAS

<span>Dental floss is among the list of products intentionally containing ‘forever chemicals’ that will be banned.</span><span>Photograph: Patrick Jelen/Getty Images/Westend61</span>
Dental floss is among the list of products intentionally containing ‘forever chemicals’ that will be banned.Photograph: Patrick Jelen/Getty Images/Westend61

A new law coming into effect in Colorado in July is banning everyday products that intentionally contain toxic “forever chemicals”, including clothes, cookware, menstruation products, dental floss and ski wax – unless they can be made safer.

Under the legislation, which takes effect on 1 July, many products using per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS chemicals linked to cancer risk, lower fertility and developmental delays – will be prohibited starting in 2026.

By 2028, Colorado will also ban the sale of all PFAS-treated clothes, backpacks and waterproof outdoor apparel. The law will also require companies selling PFAS-coated clothing to attach disclosure labels.

The initial draft of state senate bill 81, introduced in 2022, included a full ban on PFAS beginning in 2032. But that measure was written out after facing opposition.

Colorado has already passed a measure requiring companies to phase out PFAS in carpets, furniture, cosmetics, juvenile products, some food packaging and those used in oil and gas production.

The incoming law’s diluted version illustrates the challenges lawmakers have in regulating chemicals that are used to make products waterproof, nonstick or resistant to staining. Manufacturers say the products, at best, will take time to make with a safer replacement – or at worst, are not yet possible to get made in such fashion.

The American Chemistry Council said the bill before its dilution would have created “severe disruption for Coloradoans” as well as undercut “the compromises that were reached in 2022 PFAS legislation”. The council said the original bill would have created “broad, sweeping bans before that law [had] even been implemented”.

But the trade group later said that it appreciated “the efforts of Colorado lawmakers to take a more focused approach to the issue”, adding: “Policymakers at both the state and federal levels seem to be recognizing that it is not scientifically accurate to group all fluoro chemistry together and that there are critical, safe uses of this chemistry.”

Gretchen Salter – an adviser with Safer States, a group that says Colorado is one of 28 states to adopt policies on PFAS – told the Denver Post in March: “The more we look for PFAS, the more we find. That makes regulating PFAS really tricky because it is in so many things.”

But the new law does not account for PFAS that are already in the environment. Colorado recently found that 29 of more than 2,000 water treatment facilities in the state do not meet new federal limits on PFAS levels of four parts per trillion.

The ubiquity of “forever chemicals” was illustrated recently by a study that found microplastics in penises for the first time, raising questions about a potential role in erectile dysfunction. The revelation comes after the pollutants were recently found in every human placenta tested in a study, leaving the researchers worried about the potential health impacts on developing foetuses.

In Colorado, state senator Lisa Cutter, one of the sponsors of the new law there, has said she still wants a complete ban on PFAS but acknowledges the problems. “As much as I want PFAS to go away forever and forever, there are going to be some difficult pivots,” she told the outlet.

They include balancing the potential cost to consumers in making products PFAS-free. Cutter told CBS News that it was “really hard” challenging lobbying groups that “spent a lot of money ensuring that these chemicals can continue being put into our products and make profits”.

Cutter said had been accused of stifling innovation and industry. She said she believed companies could be successful while also looking out for the communities they serve.

“Certainly, there are cases where it’s not plausible right away to gravitate away from them, but we need to be moving in that direction,” Cutter said. “Our community shouldn’t have to pay the price for their health.”