Lawmakers to name chemical ban ‘Amara’s Law’ to honor 20-year-old cancer victim

Amara Strande spent her final months pushing the Legislature to enact ban on PFAS

By: - May 9, 2023 3:08 pm

Amara Strande’s father helps her to a seat after she talked about her experience living with a rare type of cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma. “I’m going to die from this cancer,” Strande said at a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer

In late January, Amara Strande stood at the podium in the state Capitol press room and explained why — even though she was dying of a rare type of liver cancer — she was spending her precious time lobbying for legislation that would strictly regulate toxic chemicals made down the road by 3M.

Within four months, the cancer took her life. Lawmakers stood at that same podium Tuesday and announced that several bills banning the chemicals in most products have been agreed to by a conference committee, in what will be named Amara’s Law.

Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, said the provisions were unanimously adopted by the conference committee and — if passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Tim Walz — would be one of the nation’s toughest bans on products containing the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

“Minnesota invented PFAS. By passing this, Minnesota is going to invent the solution and end this harm caused by forever chemicals,” she said. 

A major environment bill contains provisions banning the chemicals in a number of products (from dental floss to cleaning products) beginning in 2025 except those deemed by state regulators to be essential; requires companies to disclose whether they use the chemicals in products; and bans the chemicals in firefighting foam (except at airports and in oil refineries).

The chemicals were invented by Maplewood-based 3M in the 1940s and have been used in numerous products to repel oil, water, heat and stains. But they don’t break down in the environment, or human body, and can now be found in the blood of nearly all people, and have been linked to low fertility, birth defects, suppression of the immune system, thyroid disease and various cancers.

In the 1940s and 1950s, 3M disposed of waste from its Cottage Grove chemical plant into unlined, undeveloped, low land in what is now Oakdale — a common practice at the time. In 2005, state health officials announced PFAS chemicals had contaminated Oakdale’s water, and 3M began helping treat the water. State pollution regulators say the dumping created a 200-square-mile underground contaminated plume east of the Twin Cities.

Strande grew up in Woodbury and went to Tartan High School in Oakdale, where she said a lot of students got cancer.

Sen. Judy Seeberger, DFL-Afton, represents the Lake Elmo area, which has grappled with chemical contamination of water too. She said the issue is important to her constituents — she has to filter her own well water — but the issue expands beyond her district, because the chemicals are ubiquitous.

“We have some of the toughest PFAS laws in the nation now poised and ready to be enacted,” she said. “I have only just begun. I will continue this fight.”

Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth, thanked the Strandes for holding lawmakers accountable.

“All of us saw the testimony that Amara brought to the Legislature and all of us were so moved by what she was doing to advocate for all the rest of us when she was going through her own cancer and was getting sicker and sicker and she kept coming in she kept sharing her story,” she said.

Her aide was so moved by Amara’s story that he drafted a resolution to honor her — which will be introduced in the House and Senate — by naming the legislation for her.

Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, said lobbyists flew in from out of state to try to intimidate lawmakers. 

A bevy of multi-billion dollar industries lobbied against the legislation, with over 50 companies and trade associations coming out against it. They said the bill is too broad, treats all PFAS the same, duplicates federal efforts and would create a patchwork of laws.

Brand said he’s been warned that companies would stop selling products rather than remove the chemicals.

“The sky is always falling ’til it’s not,” Brand said. “They will be sold in Minnesota because they will be missing out of the large market. And they’ll figure it out.”

Brand said he was thankful that Republicans also supported the bills, saying, “PFAS doesn’t really care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

Asked why lawmakers finally made progress on PFAS legislation this year, Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, replied, “In a word: Amara.”

Michael Strande, Amara’s father, credited lawmakers for not backing down from high-powered lobbying to “do what’s right” and lead the world in curbing the chemicals.

“Amara wanted to do whatever she could, whatever strength she could call up, whatever needed to be said to make her community a safe place to live,” he said.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.