WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group applauds the House for passing a bill to help protect firefighters from exposure to the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS widely used in their tools and equipment.
The bipartisan legislation, the Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act, has already cleared the Senate and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. It directs the Department of Homeland Security to offer guidance to federal, state and local firefighters about training and the best ways to reduce exposure to PFAS.
Firefighters are exposed through their use of firefighting foam containing PFAS, called aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF. Foam manufacturers knew of the potential health harms for years, yet kept them secret. Firefighters’ protective gear is also made with PFAS textile materials and treated with additional PFAS for water resistance, posing further risks to firefighters who wear it.
“Firefighters are among those most exposed to harms from PFAS, but many local fire departments lack the resources and guidance to switch to PFAS-free alternatives,” said Jay Lucey, EWG’s legislative director for government affairs.
The bill, by Rep. Debbie Dingell and Sen. Gary Peters, both Democrats of Michigan, will help find ways to lower firefighters’ exposure to PFAS. It will also spur the search for firefighting tools and equipment made without harmful PFAS.
“EWG appreciates Sen. Peters and Rep. Dingell’s leadership in addressing the national PFAS crisis, and this legislation will protect those most affected by PFAS exposure, our firefighters and first responders,” said Lucey.
Studies show firefighters have higher levels of PFAS in their blood than the average American. PFAS are linked to various health harms, including some kinds of cancer, reproductive harms and reduced effectiveness of vaccines.
Viable alternatives to AFFF are already on the market. Many meet rigorous international standards and are used around the world. As of April 2019, 90 fluorine-free foams were available from 22 manufacturers.
Several states have already banned most uses of AFFF, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Washington. Others, including California, Colorado and Michigan, have created take-back programs for the foam.
California, Colorado and New York also require manufacturers of firefighter protective equipment to disclose whether their products contain PFAS.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) 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