SACRAMENTO – Technology giant Honeywell is lobbying California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would ban the sale in the state of cosmetics intentionally made with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, say Sacramento advocates familiar with the situation.
California’s Assembly approved the bill, AB 2771, in a 60-7 vote at the end of August, sending it to Newsom’s desk. If enacted, it would be the latest of the state’s hard-hitting steps to tackle PFAS. Two years ago, it was the first to ban 13 PFAS from personal care products, and also banned PFAS in firefighting foam. Last year, Newsom signed two bills to ban the use of PFAS in juvenile products and in food packaging.
Now Honeywell, which describes itself as a multi-sector technology company, is trying to impede California’s leadership on the issue, because banning PFAS is bad for its bottom line – no matter the health risks people face when exposed to the chemicals.
Honeywell is a major producer of chemicals known as hydrofluoroolefins, or HFOs. These are part of the much larger family of PFAS chemical compounds and are widely used as propellants and solvents in products like industrial cleaners and refrigerants. The company wants to sell its HFOs to cosmetics manufacturers to use in spray- and foam-based personal care products, such as hair spray, body lotion, makeup, antiperspirant, sunscreen and even baby ointment.
The plan to profit from PFAS in personal care products will be viable only if the chemicals can be sold in the Golden State, the fifth largest economy in the world and the biggest of the 50 states. If AB 2771 becomes law, cosmetics containing harmful PFAS will not be allowed for sale in California.
Over the past several months, the company has paid Sacramento-based lobby firm Axiom Advisors more than $50,000 to lobby lawmakers and Newsom to oppose AB 2771. It is also opposing AB 2247, a bill to require collection of information for the state and the public on the products and substances sold or brought into California that contain toxic PFAS.
Honeywell is also a member of the American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group that co-signed an August 27 letter to Newsom with the California Chamber of Commerce and major aerosol and product manufacturing organizations urging the governor to veto AB 2771.
The chemical industry letter is riddled with inaccurate and outright wrong claims to justify the veto push. It states, “As it relates to PFAS, HFOs are not persistent.”
The truth: HFOs break down to PFAS, which are highly persistent.
The HFOs proposed for use degrade to TFA, a persistent and highly mobile PFAS contaminant. The use of HFOs and other similar gases has led to increasing levels of TFA across the globe and in the Arctic. TFA and other short-chain PFAS are found in drinking water at much higher concentrations than other PFAS. According to the authors of a recent study, they “represent a major challenge for drinking water production.”
The chemical industry argues: “HFOs are not toxic.”
The truth: HFOs are harmful to human health and the environment.
The chemical industry states: “HFOs are not bioaccumulative.”
The truth: HFOs break down to the persistent PFAS chemical TFA.
The levels of the breakdown chemical TFA in water and human exposure are rising. HFOs do not bioaccumulate like some PFAS, but greater use means more exposure and potential harm. A recent study in Norway found TFA is a major PFAS contaminant in mammals with high levels in moose, wolf, otter and Arctic fox.
The chemical industry says: “HFOs are an effective tool for reducing ground level ozone formation.”
The truth: We don’t need HFOs.
Numerous safer and PFAS-free propellants exist, including compressed air, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Manual pump sprays are also an option for many products. There is absolutely no need to introduce the use of HFOs as propellants.
The chemical industry letter states: “the US Environmental Protection Agency has deemed HFOs acceptable as it relates to human health and the environment.”
The truth: Personal care products warrant more safety protections than refrigerants.
The EPA didn’t consider the use of HFOs in hair spray or cosmetic products but did deem a few HFOs as acceptable substitutes for other CFCs and HCFCs used as refrigerants or replacements for industrial aerosols. The chemicals used in hair spray and sunscreen should meet a higher standard than those used in an air conditioner.
If Newsom vetoes the legislation, Honeywell and many other companies will be permitted to make, market and sell personal care products that contain these toxic compounds to people in California.
“Gov. Newsom has repeatedly stood up for Californians when it comes to safeguarding them from exposure to toxic chemicals, like PFAS and pesticides,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “His record on behalf of the environment and public health protection is unmatched among the nation’s governors, and we strongly urge him to build on that legacy by signing AB 2771. Just because Honeywell wants to sell hair spray with these toxic chemicals doesn’t mean they should be allowed to – at least not in California.”
PFAS are called forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and build up in our blood and organs. They are among the most persistent toxic compounds in existence.
Continuing to allow the use of HFOs in cosmetics will inevitably lead to ongoing health risks to people exposed to the chemicals, and likely more contamination of drinking water.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.