2017 State Environmental Health Legislation.

Author:Farquhar, Doug

Environmental health remains a concern within state legislatures. In 2017, 1,602 separate bills covering 2,879 environmental health topics were introduced at the state level, with 278 bills enacted (Table 1). Bills were introduced in every state and the District of Columbia, ranging from three bills in Wyoming to 255 bills in New York.

California enacted the most bills (32), followed by Virginia (20). Several states, including Alaska, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, did not enact any bills on environmental health. Massachusetts introduced 100 bills related to environmental health, but none were passed in 2017 and will carry over to 2018.

Toxics and chemicals were the foremost topics in 2017 (447 bills introduced). Food safety was the second foremost concern (380 bills introduced). Lead was the dominant chemical of concern in 2017 (248 bills introduced). Drinking water remained a top priority (284 bills introduced), along with bills addressing wastewater (134 bills introduced).

Other issues of legislative interest included pesticides (112 bills introduced), asthma (56 bills introduced), radon (49 bills introduced), body art (22 bills introduced), swimming pools (21 bills introduced) (Table 1).

North Dakota enacted three of the most consequential state laws on environmental health. In 2017, the legislature created a state Department of Environmental Quality (S 2327), transferring environmental responsibilities from the state's Department of Health to the new department. The legislature also enacted the Food Freedom Act (H 1433) exempting certain food manufactures from health or safety requirements. A third law requires mineral developers to test the water quality of private drinking water wells within half a mile of their operation (H 1409).

Toxics and Chemicals

Congress' revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act through enactment of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act (LCSA) sought to limit state efforts in regulating chemicals. States remain as active in chemical safety, however, as they were prior to the enactment of LCSA. In 2015, prior to LCSA, states introduced 437 bills. In the first year of LCSA, states introduced 447 bills, many of which addressed lead hazards, a chemical states still have the authority to regulate. Of these 447 bills, 69 were enacted into law in 33 states.

One of the biggest issues in 2017 was sunscreen--whether a child can take sunscreen to school or camp without it being considered a prohibited drug. Another concern is whether oxybenzone (an ingredient in sunscreen) is harmful to marine life (an issue limited to the Hawaiian Legislature). The Food and Drug Administration considers sunscreen to be an over-the-counter drug product, meaning it is legal to purchase but it should not be applied to children without supervision. California passed a law in 2002 forgoing this warning, allowing students to use sunscreen in school. New York enacted a similar law in 2013, and Oregon and Texas passed laws in 2015. In 2017, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington passed laws regarding sunscreen products. Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island had bills introduced on the subject in 2017, but they were not enacted. The bill in Mississippi has died and the bills in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were carried over to the 2018 session.

The Cleaning Product Right-to-Know Act was adopted in California (S 258). Florida enacted S 1018, requiring owners to report the release of certain pollutants within 24 hr to the state. In Maine, recent state law prohibits the sale and distribution of upholstered furniture with flame retardant chemicals (H 138). Rhode Island enacted similar provisions in 2017 (S 166 and H 5082).

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) also emerged as a concern in 2017. New York enacted S 5198 to reimburse several communities from PFOA contamination. Vermont enacted a law that holds individuals who release PFOAs into public water supplies to be strictly, jointly, and severably liable (S 10).


Of the 248 bills introduced regarding lead hazards, 34 were enacted or adopted into law. New Mexico adopted SJM 15 to study the risks of lead poisoning to the state. Pennsylvania established a task force on lead exposures and hazards to lead poisoning (SR 33).

Legislation to replace lead service lines was common. California S 427 requires communities to set a timeline to replace lead water service lines. Indiana H 1519 allows for utilities to be reimbursed for replacing private lead service lines. Minnesota S 1457 bans lead in plumbing and plumbing components. Wisconsin S 48 permits public utilities to use public funds to replace lines on private property. Appropriation bills in New York (A 3004, A 3007, and S 2007) and Pennsylvania (H 674) address lead service lines. The New York bills authorize $20 million to communities to replace lead service lines. The Pennsylvania bill allows for public water systems to pay for the replacement of lead service lines on private property.

Requirements for testing lead in school water systems were enacted in California (A 746), Colorado (H 1306), the District of Columbia (B 29), Maryland (H 270), and Virginia (S 1359). Arizona's budget bill provides funds...

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