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Manufacturer-friendly PFAS bill abandoned by Indiana Senate committee

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Manufacturer-friendly PFAS bill abandoned by Indiana Senate committee

Feb 26, 2024 | 11:54 am ET
By Casey Smith
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Manufacturer-friendly PFAS bill abandoned by Indiana Senate committee
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The Senate Environmental Affairs Committee effectively killed a bill that sought to change the definition of toxic PFAS chemicals in Indiana, allowing their continued use by manufacturers. (Getty Images)

Indiana senators ditched a bill on Monday that would have changed the definition of toxic PFAS chemicals to exempt those that Hoosier manufacturers want to keep using.

House Bill 1399 would have carved out more than 5,000 “forever chemicals” from being defined as such by the state and its environmental rules board. The proposal sought to proactively exempt the chemicals in case state or federal regulators try to ban them in the future.

But Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who chairs the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, said Monday that he viewed the bill “as being a little proactive.” 

Niemeyer said he had several “extensive conversations” with Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Commissioner Brian Rockensuess and “came to the conclusion that we have nothing that’s out there that’s proposed right now to the rules board or anyplace else.” No IDEM representatives spoke publicly about the bill, however.

“I understand (manufacturers) want that certainty — they need that — especially with the things that this chemical is involved in, and it does a lot for our citizens of this state,” he said. “But there’s nothing pending … it looks like there’s nothing that’s going to happen in the future.”

Niemeyer noted that PFAS regulation proposals must go through the state’s Environmental Rules Board, which he said would take “a minimum” of 18 months. 

“It gives plenty of time, on this language, if next session or over the summer or something it looks like it’s happening, and we need to do something,” he continued, adding that previous PFAS legislation passed by the General Assembly — aimed at protecting firefighters from PFAS chemicals used in protective equipment — “doesn’t change anything in the state.”

The Senate committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on the bill last week. It previously passed out of the House in a 64-30 vote, along party lines.

Proponents of the bill, which included many in the chemical manufacturing industry, said the definition change is needed to preserve uses of PFAS in “essential” items like lithium batteries, laptop computers, semiconductors, pacemakers and defibrillators. 

Even so, state regulators have yet to propose a prohibition on those uses. And while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is eventually expected to require states to regulate PFAS chemicals, it’s not clear when such rules will take effect.

If the definition change was enacted in Indiana, chemicals deemed harmful in other states would no longer carry the same designation in the Hoosier state. Critics said the legislation could allow products that contain the toxic chemicals to be “wrongly” labeled as “PFAS-free.”

PFAS are used to make a variety of nonstick, waterproof and stain-resistant products like cookware, cosmetics, carpets and clothing. Among other things, exposure to the chemicals has been linked to kidney cancer, problems with the immune system and developmental issues in children.

House bills must advance from Senate committees by Thursday. Although the PFAS measure is effectively dead, language from the legislation could be amended into other bills before the legislative session comes to a close in mid-March.