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A Florida law takes effect that requires the state to hit certain cleanup levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

The use of PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are a possible carcinogen, has spread to a variety of products that touch daily life: non-stick coatings, food products, air particles and foams.

Researchers continue to discover new ways that PFAS enter our environment and bodies.

HB 1475 and companion bill SB 7012 now legally require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set state rules for target cleanup levels of PFAS. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 20. It took effect immediately.

There are currently over 12,000 known variants, with PFOA and PHOS being the two most commonly tested chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart, cosponsored this bill alongside Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, and said that a set of mandated rules from the state’s DEP would ensure municipalities cooperated with, at least, state regulations in managing levels of PFAS.

“These are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster... If we do not deal with those things now, then we really face some big issues in the future,” Overdorf said.

He stated that while the bill was waiting for the governor’s signature, the federal government came out with temporary, updated advisories of PFAS in drinking water, which he said came in great timing for HB 1475.

In 2016, the EPA developed a health advisory level for drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. Yet, although an advisory, it was not official law.

On June 15, the agency came out with new advisory levels that suggest negative health effects could occur when exposed to concentration levels of PFOA and PHOS in water that are near zero but “are below the EPA’s ability to detect at this time.”

“This bill is a stop-gap measure until the federal government comes out with actual, stated levels that we have to comply with,” Overdorf said.

Part of Florida’s recent legislation mandates that the DEP have set target levels by 2025 before it can come back for ratification at the state’s legislature. Overdorf also said that local municipalities cannot be sued by outside parties until such levels are set.

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals most commonly found in drinking water, groundwater and soil. These toxic substances are known as forever chemicals due to their carbon-forming bonds that make them indestructible.

Dr. John Bowden, an assistant professor within the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, said in an extensive interview that the use and release of PFAS through different mechanisms has been occurring for decades, but experts are now starting to become more aware of the problem.

“It is a constant barrage in the way that we get exposed to these things, and as we become more aware of the issue, we are realizing it’s very complex,” Bowden said. “There is so much new information that is coming out, which is great, but the more literature that comes out the more questions we have.”

Although most knowingly sourced from military bases and airports, these forever chemicals continue to surprise researchers in where they can be located and how they affect the surrounding environment.

Bowden added there are recent studies showing that PFAS appears in higher levels in foods like tomatoes, wheat, liver and other organ meats as well as certain dairy products. In wildlife, alligators carry high levels of PFAS, and these chemicals have also been recorded in manatee blood.

“I am getting to a point where I am not surprised anymore, because we find it everywhere,” he said.

UF is currently conducting multiple different projects aiming to further study how PFAS infiltrates different areas in Florida. In 2019, UF environmental engineering professor Timothy Townsend began spearheading a 3-year project to study what happens when PFAS enters a solid waste stream and a landfill.

The project was parceled $989,668 of a $6 million federal grant to study the effects of PFAS in these areas. Seven other groups were also funded.

Bowden mentioned that in order for humans to take action in addressing the intake of PFAS into their own bodies, society’s behavior must shift.

“Some parts of our environment we can’t control, but there are a lot of things that we can control,” he said. “We can control what we eat, buy or consume, so I think behavior is a really big piece of how to combat this moving forward.”

Elise is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.