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OP-ED: Your right to know what toxic chemicals are in Indiana products

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Since the beginning of its use, firefighters were told that PFAS in AFFF firefighting foam were safe, or as proponents claimed, were “good” chemicals.  Manufacturers claimed firefighting foams could not be made without PFAS. However, when pushed, industry was able to deliver safer alternatives. There are now many PFAS-free foams available and in use today. Since 2019, fire departments across Indiana volunteered their outdated foam to be destroyed, with 36,664 gallons being collected as of Jan. 12 of this year by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

There would have been no push to create PFAS-free firefighting foam if the information was intentionally concealed from the public. Now, a proposed bill in Indiana aims to hide the use of PFAS in a wide variety of products, including many products made for children and infants.

New parents shape their children with every choice they make. Every decision, no matter how big or how small, is made with the intent of creating the best outcomes for their child with the information they have. That includes deciding what goes into their child's body. No parent that I know would consciously choose to give their child something that contained chemicals proven to be toxic. 

However, under House Bill 1399, which passed out of the Indiana House of Representatives and is up for consideration in the State Senate, the public’s right to know what toxins are being intentionally added into a number of common household products would be stripped away. Parent’s would be kept in the dark about toxic PFAS that are added into many juvenile products specifically marketed to children such as bassinets, play mats, car seats and pillows.

PFAS are a man-made class of chemicals engineered in the 1940’s in a lab to be durable against water, heat, and are slow to break down, which makes them popular additives in everything from food packaging to clothing. This durability coined the term “forever chemicals” because of the ability to persist in the environment – including our bodies – for many years rather than break down. PFAS have been linked to a number of negative health effects, however, including cancer, liver and kidney damage, reproductive harm, and developmental delays in infants. Newborns have even been found to have PFAS in their blood, despite this chemical not naturally occurring in the environment. Pregnant women have passed this chemical to their womb, with PFAS being found in umbilical cord blood and breast milk. 

For these reasons alone, there is an urgent need to reduce human exposure to PFAS.

However, while other states are looking at effective ways to reduce the use of toxic chemicals to protect the public’s health, led by firefighters, farmers, and families with concern for children, why is Indiana seeking to do the opposite?

Should the Senate approve this bill, nearly 5,000 PFAS chemicals would no longer be considered as PFAS in the state of Indiana. This would give many of these chemicals a special pass to evade future regulation, including a labeling requirement that would inform the public that a product contains these chemicals.  A product that contains PFAS could even be marketed as “PFAS-free” in Indiana. That is the type of misleading the public I will not stand for.  

Should this bill become law, babies in Indiana will continue to crawl on carpeting, sleep on bedding, and play on mats and with toys that have all been found to include toxic, man-made chemicals. Kids will continue to sit in car seats with PFAS, wear school uniforms with PFAS, and consume snacks wrapped in packaging made with PFAS.

The more scientists learn about these chemicals, the more states are moving forward to restrict the use of PFAS in the name of public health. Instead of listening to science and taking action to protect the wellbeing of our constituents, we now must look parents in the eyes and tell them that the General Assembly fought to keep PFAS in products intended for children. 

Even parents that are aware of the dangers PFAS pose to their child will be unable to trust a “PFAS-free” label. Indiana has decided, against all scientific evidence, that thousands of harmful chemicals deserve to be protected from regulation over protecting children from harm. 

If we value parental choice, then why is the Indiana legislature willing to pass a law that allows Indiana manufacturers to deliberately withhold information that would influence a parent's decision of what is safe for their child? We owe Hoosier parents – and children – the right to know when a product contains chemicals proven harmful to children.

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