On Tuesday, the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the George Walter Taylor Act to the Senate Floor. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Sarah Elfreth and Delegate Sara Love restricts the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging and rugs and carpets and switches to safer alternatives for fire-fighting foams. It also requires notification for firefighter turnout gear that contains PFAS and stops the landfilling and incineration of PFAS foam. An amendment was added to the bill to create a state buyback program for PFAS foam to help municipalities and counties with the financial burden of storing the toxic foam.
SB273/HB275 is named for George “Walter” Taylor, a 31 year veteran of the fire service who died from occupational health cancers linked to PFAS exposure. Cancer is the leading line-of-duty cause of death for firefighters, causing 75% of firefighter deaths according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.
“I can’t bring Walter back, but we owe it to him and the families of Walter’s fellow firefighters to do everything we can to reduce their exposure to PFAS and other cancer-causing chemicals,” explained Christine Taylor, a nurse in Southern Maryland and wife of Walter Taylor. “By passing this law, Maryland can protect the lives of our firefighting brothers and sisters, so they can continue to protect your life and the lives of Maryland families.”
The bill is championed by the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland and public health and environmental advocates, including Maryland PIRG, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and dozens of other groups.
“When I give my toddlers a drink of water, there’s a very good chance they are being exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “I hope the Maryland legislature and Gov. Hogan will follow the lead of the Senate Environment and Health committee and take immediate action to protect our families and firefighters from these toxic “forever chemicals” by passing the George Walter Taylor Act.”
When PFAS chemicals are used in fire-fighting foams, rugs, carpets, and food packaging they leach into our water, air, and food and accumulate in our bodies. They have been linked to harmful health effects, including cancer, thyroid disruption, and reduced vaccine response. These chemicals also cling to, and penetrate, firefighter protective gear, leading to increased rates of exposure. They release cancer-causing chemicals when they burn, endangering firefighter health.
The bill now heads to the Senate Floor. The House companion bill is currently being considered by the Health and Government Operations Committee.