California Legislation Seeks to Ban PFAS in Consumer Products Effective 2030

California’s extensive regulatory approach to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) is poised to take a dramatic step forward with a proposed ban on the forever chemicals” in most consumer products. Following the adoption of similar bans in Maine and Minnesota, California state senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced bill SB 903 to the state senate last Monday, which would prohibit the distribution, sale, or offering for sale of products containing intentionally added” PFAS. While the bill does not introduce anything particularly innovative by way of PFAS bans in consumer goods, it does represent one of the most comprehensive instructions to a regulatory agency on how to effectuate such a ban.

The Ending Forever Chemicals Act” (SB 903) builds on the Golden State’s existing efforts to restrict the use of PFAS in consumer goods. For example, AB 1817 and AB 2771 passed through the legislature easily and were both signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 29, 2022. These bills respectively prohibit the manufacturing, distribution, sale, or offering for sale of textile articles or cosmetic products containing PFAS beginning January 1, 2025.

SB 903 proposes to apply this prohibition to all products,” which the bill defines as an item manufactured, assembled, packaged, or otherwise prepared for sale in California, including, but not limited to, its components, sold or distributed for personal, residential, commercial, or industrial use, including for use in making other products.” It further defines component” as an identifiable ingredient, part, or piece of a product, regardless of whether the manufacturer of the product is the manufacturer of the component.” The prohibition would be effective January 1, 2030. Interestingly, the bill gives the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”) the authority to, via rulemaking, prohibit intentionally added PFAS in a product or product category before the 2030 effective date.

Like Maine and Minnesota’s ban of PFAS in consumer goods, California also creates exemptions for products where DTSC finds via rulemaking that the presence of PFAS in the consumer good constitutes a currently unavoidable use” (“CUU”). To qualify, the bill authorizes DTSC to solicit petitions for individual products and product categories that may qualify for a CUU waiver. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is accepting individual CUU proposals until this Friday, March 1, for products that may fit within the standard. Meanwhile, the comment period for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s proposed definition of CUU also closes on March 1.

California’s bill would statutorily codify the requirements to satisfy a CUU at HSC, Division 104, Part 3, Chapter 18, 109030.2(a). A CUU would be found where:

  1. There are no safer alternatives to PFAS that are reasonably available.
  2. The function provided by PFAS in the product is necessary for the product to work.
  3. The use of PFAS in the product is critical for health, safety, or the functioning of society.

Note that the third criterion here is borrowed from the definition of CUU” under Maine’s prohibition exemption at 38 M.R.S. § 1614.1.B.

SB 903 further outlines what CUU petitions must contain, and how DTSC must evaluate such petitions. This includes a requirement that all petitions be subject to public comment.

Moreover, the bill provides that CUU petitions expire five years after issuance. The bill authorizes DTSC to revoke petitions prior to expiration if it can determine that the information used to justify the issuance is no longer relevant. And, importantly, the bill requires manufacturers to renew determination petitions no later than six months prior to their expiration. DTSC must also publish an online list on their website of each determination of a CUU, its expiration date, and the products and uses exempt from the prohibition.

If DTSC has reason to believe that a product contains intentionally added PFAS in violation of the bill, SB 903 authorizes DTSC to require the manufacturer to test the product and send DTSC results demonstrating compliance. Violators would be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000 per day for each violation, with repeat violations raising that penalty to a $2,500 maximum. The bill also authorizes the judiciary to enjoin sale of violating products.

While California is not the first state to issue such a ban, and has indeed borrowed almost all of these provisions from Maine or Minnesota, SB 903 represents the most realized version of such a prohibition introduced to date. It provides robust language and demarcated instructions to DTSC on how to effectuate the ban and its numerous exemptions. It also allows public comment for individual CUU petitions and explains how the CUU exemption must be renewed over time.

The bill will likely gain support in the California legislature. The real question moving forward is whether Gov. Newsom, who has vetoed several PFAS prohibition bills (see here and here) in the past for vagueness and overreach surrounding applicability and enforcement, will be satisfied with the legislation.