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Protecting Workers and the Environment from "Forever Chemicals"

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Massachusetts takes important strides to protect workers and the environment from "forever chemicals"
PFAS uses
Manufacturers use products that contain PFAS to coat electronics, waterproof textiles, suppress fumes and more.

December 10, 2021 (Lowell, Massachusetts) – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts took a significant step this week toward protecting the health of its citizens. The governing body of the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) program voted to add most PFAS – often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they never fully break down in the environment – under legislation that has successfully helped businesses reduce the use of toxic chemicals in a wide array of industrial processes.

This class of chemicals, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is of concern due to their known and unknown health hazards and inability to degrade in the environment. A new analysis of Massachusetts public water systems by the Sierra Club finds that 87 percent of communities have detectable levels of six of the most dangerous PFAS chemicals in their ground and surface water supplies. International authorities estimate well over 4,000 individual chemicals in the class, but the exact number in use is unknown.

“It’s critical that we turn off the tap of PFAS contamination and this vote is another important step towards that goal,” says Liz Harriman, Deputy Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell. “We understand that companies may face challenges identifying the sources of PFAS and adopting safer alternatives. TURI and the Office of Technical Assistance are here to help by providing companies with technical assistance, guidance, research and grants.”

The vote on Tuesday, Dec. 7 was another major milestone in the three-year process that involved extensive scientific review of PFAS and most recently, a response to public comments from industry, advocates and communities.

While the listing of PFAS under the Toxics Use Reduction Act would not prohibit their use, it will enhance understanding of the use of these chemicals in industry, and support and encourage prevention by activating Toxics Use Reduction - a successful mechanism for innovation and safer substitution. The TURA program makes it possible to address PFAS contamination at its source, rather than only addressing PFAS after contamination has occurred.

Facilities in Massachusetts that are subject to TURA and use large amounts of PFAS are expected to track use beginning in 2022 and report use of PFAS by July 1, 2023.

About TURI
Established by the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) of 1989, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell enables innovation toward safer chemicals. For more than 30 years, TURI has collaborated with the companies, community organizations and partner government agencies to protect public health and the environment while simultaneously improving the competitiveness of businesses.