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January 2024 WA Legislative Session Update

An image of the WA state legislative building in Olympia, WA across the water with clouds hanging above

While there is a lot we can do as individuals to keep hazardous materials out of our environment, the Haz Waste Program recognizes that policy and systems change are key pieces of the puzzle. Whether it’s changing policies to match the most current health and environmental research, or creating new product stewardship laws to make manufacturers responsible for safely disposing of the hazardous products they create — policies help protect the public and preserve our land and waterways.

The Washington State Legislature convened for a short 60-day session on Jan. 8. Here are some of the hazardous waste-related policies the Program is tracking throughout this year's session. Check back here for progress in the coming months.

Product testing and research

PFAS budget proviso: Allocates funds and support for a portable screening tool for PFAS.

Current status: In progress

What it might mean for you: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFAS as they’re more commonly known, can be found in many different types of products—from fast-food packaging, to water-resistant clothing, cookware, and many personal care products. There are thousands of PFAS, with about 650 currently in commercial use, and research shows that exposure can lead to health impacts for people and the environment. This legislation would provide funding to the University of Washington School of Public Health to develop a mobile screening tool to detect the presence of PFAS. The Washington State Department of Health, the Haz Waste Program, and Public Health – Seattle & King County would help determine how the tool could be used by government agencies for future programming. Developing better screening tools is the first step to identifying PFAS and minimizing their health impacts.

Lead testing for children enrolled in Medicaid (SB 5942): Implements audit recommendations to improve lead testing for children.

Current status: Bill introduced in the WA State Senate

What it might mean for you: According to a recent state audit, Washington state has failed to meet Medicaid lead testing requirement for kids. Only about a quarter of enrolled children received at least one of the federally-required tests. Though any amount of lead exposure is dangerous, children are especially at risk. Not only are they more likely to get into many sources of lead, but since they’re still growing and developing, the health risks are even greater. This bill creates a plan to identify and assess the communities most at risk for lead exposure, including outreach with healthcare providers and a better system for monitoring and testing.

Extended producer responsibility

Mercury light stewardship (HB 1185): Repeals the 2025 sunset provision of a product stewardship program for mercury-containing lights.

Current status: Bill introduced in WA State House

What it might mean for you: Mercury-containing light products can pose a serious health and environmental risk if they shatter or are disposed of improperly. Luckily, since 2015, a product stewardship program has created a range of convenient options for safely disposing of mercury-containing bulbs, lights, and lamps. The current statewide program is set to expire in 2025, which would shift responsibility back onto individuals and local government. If passed, this bill would extend the state’s product stewardship program to help keep mercury out of the environment.

Other policies

Right to repair (HB 1933 and companion SB 6276): Supports the servicing and right to repair digital devices.

Current status: Bill introduced in the WA State House

What it might mean for you: Also known as the Fair Repair Act, this bill follows national advancements in right to repair legislation. It requires manufacturers to make available to consumers and repair shops the tools, parts and information to repair all manner of electronic devices—from computers and phones, to household appliances, and farm equipment. Right to repair legislation can help keep electronic waste out of landfills and the environment—ultimately shifting the demand for new devices, and the harmful mining practices required for their manufacture. They also give consumers more options for maintaining and repairing their personal devices.

Reducing lead in cookware (HB 1551 and companion SB 5605): Restricts lead and lead compounds in cookware — including pots, pressure cookers, bakeware, and more.

Current status: Bill introduced in the WA State House

What it might mean for you: Many cookware items have been shown to contain trace amounts of lead, especially those used by some immigrant communities that have brought items from their home countries. Lead is known to cause brain damage and other health effects, and no amount of exposure is safe. If passed, this bill would restrict the manufacture, sale, and distribution of cookware containing lead. It would also allow the Washington State Department of Ecology to consider lowering the limit for lead in cookware—from 10 parts per million (ppm) to 5 ppm.

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