Capitol Alert

Water systems must notify Californians about these cancer-linked chemicals under new law

Starting next year, California water systems must notify residents if their water sources contain potentially toxic levels of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS under a law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Wednesday.

The new law, AB 756, will also expand state regulators’ ability to test for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The compounds can be found in everyday plastics and products like floss and are concentrated in firefighting foam that the military and commercial aviation industry has used for decades.

That foam has seeped into groundwater and wells surrounding military installations and commercial airports, and has been found in drinking water sources at more than 712 locations in 49 states, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said the compounds have been linked to cancers and birth defects.

California regulators have already begun testing some water sources for the chemicals, said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, the Bell Gardens Democrat who authored the bill.

“This bill will help find out the scope of the problem so remediation can begin,” she told her Assembly colleagues before they voted unanimously to advance the bill.

Last year the Pentagon published a list of hundreds of contaminated private and public water sources on military bases and in the communities surrounding those installations. Congress held its first hearing on the impact of PFAS on communities and has funded a nationwide study to assess the long-term health impacts of PFAS exposure on about 10 military communities.

The Air Force swapped the old PFAS-concentrated foam for a new firefighting foam at all of its installations in 2018, but some PFAS foam is still kept on hand for emergencies or to respond to hazardous material. The Navy also continues to use the PFAS firefighting foam on its ships.

California’s new law will take effect next year.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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