The Clean Water Blog

Firefighters using PFAS fire fighting foam

PFAS in CT: From the Streets to the State House

As a Clean Water Action canvasser on the front lines of a movement, I can tell you, it is not always easy to maintain motivation throughout a campaign. Navigating icy sidewalks or enduring the suburban heat can really take its toll on a canvasser’s enthusiasm. However, canvassing on the streets of central Connecticut after the PFAS spills last summer, community members supplied an abundance of energy and motivation that lead to fantastic steps toward protecting our communities from PFAS chemicals. 
 
Recap
 
Last year two separate PFAS “spills” shut down the Farmington River, one in June and then again in October 2019. By now you probably know the details, but as a reminder, the first spill was due to leakage from a private hanger at Bradley International Airport releasing 40,000 gallons of PFAS containing firefighting foam. Then, in October, a B17 crashed nearby tragically killing several people. Emergency services discharged thousands of gallons more to put out the fire, subsequently contaminating the River again with the forever chemical, PFAS.  
 
Organizing the Community: The Canvass 
 
When I started canvassing four years ago, no one knew what PFAS was. It usually required a lengthy explanation which ended up diluting (water pun) the point that this stuff is a) everywhere, and b) incredibly toxic! It is in many products, including food packaging, but in the case of these spills, fire-fighting foam was the culprit. The chemical bond in PFAS is incredibly strong, and it breaks down very, very slowly; hence, the name “The Forever Chemical.”  
 
As we campaigned through Massachusetts, and other states began taking legislative action against this stuff, more and more Connecticut residents were tuned-in to the negative health impacts of PFAS. These spills acted as a wakeup call, bringing this problem into our back yards, quite literally in some cases. When our canvass team hit the pavement to organize residents throughout central Connecticut on this issue, it was clear that change was coming.
 
It didn’t take much convincing to activate community members around the monitoring and restricting of PFAS use. Throughout our canvassing, it was clear that most had been watching events unfold without knowing how best to take action. Some, upon mentioning the Farmington River PFAS spill, would whip out their check book and say, “How much do you need?!” Others were eager to write to our legislators to give us that incredible political capital! Over a period of five months, our team knocked on almost 10,000 doors and mobilized over 4,000 community members across central Connecticut. 

Almost 400 of those people took the time to sit down and write a letter to their legislators, which we then collected for delivery. Folks did what they could, and with the help our State Director, Anne Hulick, we funneled that concentrated energy directly to our legislators and to Governor Lamont.
 
By Aug 2019, Governor Lamont had assembled The CT PFAS Task Force lead by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Energy and Environment (DEEP) to minimize the release of and public exposure to PFAS, and to clean up historical releases. The CT Department of Administrative Services, the state’s procurement agency, has since restricted the purchasing of many food service items and packaging containing PFAS that can be used in hospitals, schools and other state facilities.  
 
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Senator Blumenthal has been leading efforts for legislation that would no longer require the Department of Defense to utilize firefighting foam that contains PFAS. This progress toward limiting public exposure is a testament to how effective grassroots organizing can be, but these are just the first steps in eliminating the public health impacts of PFAS. 
 
This pandemic has impacted all of our lives and has slowed progress on many key public health issues nationwide, but it will be critical to build upon our momentum to develop and instate long-term solutions to PFAS use. There is no legislation in Connecticut to monitor the use or proper disposal of PFAS in our products and communities. PFAS leaks like these happen all the time! 
 
We need health-protective drinking water standards and expanded water source monitoring at the very least. We need to rethink how important these chemicals really are and consider solutions that eliminate PFAS use in ALL products rather than struggling to prevent leaching and exposure with short-term, isolated fixes. It is natural to be overwhelmed by all the issues that we are facing, but our motivated canvass team may soon be on your doorstep prepared to turn your personal angst into widespread action. Until then, join Clean Water Action in the fight against PFAS. Tell Governor Lamont how you feel HERE.