Skip to content

Peters & Dingell Bipartisan Bill to Protect Firefighters from Hazardous PFAS Chemicals Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation led by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12) to help protect the health and safety of firefighters and emergency responders from PFAS exposure has been signed into law. The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act directs federal agencies to develop best practices, training, and educational programs to reduce, limit and prevent exposure to PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop educational resources for firefighters on alternative foams and personal protective equipment that do not contain PFAS.

“We need to protect firefighters and first responders from harmful PFAS substances in the line of duty,” said Senator Peters. “This new law will help the federal government ensure that our heroes are safe from these forever chemicals that continue to pose a threat to the health and safety of emergency responders in Michigan and across the country.”

“Forever chemicals are an urgent public health threat, especially to our firefighters who are frequently exposed to harmful PFAS in firefighting foams and personal protective equipment as they work to keep us safe,” said Congresswoman Dingell. “I thank Senator Peters for his partnership in getting the PFAS Act over the finish line and President Biden for signing this into law to protect our frontline emergency responders from the dangerous effects of forever chemicals and minimize the spread of PFAS in our environment and communities."

Emergency response teams are frequently exposed to harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foams and personal protective equipment as they work to keep communities safe. PFAS substances have been linked to a number of health problems, including certain cancers.

The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act will direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – to develop educational resources to help protect firefighters, emergency response personnel, and the communities they serve from PFAS exposure. This will include information for federal, state, and local firefighters on training and best practices to prevent and reduce exposure to PFAS from firefighting foams and protective gear, as well as resources that identify alternatives for firefighting tools and equipment that do not contain PFAS.

The legislation builds on Peters’ longstanding efforts to address PFAS contamination. He convened a field hearing in East Lansing with senior federal officials and local stakeholders to examine efforts to clean up PFAS contamination in Michigan. Peters recently introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and expand federal research on PFAS contamination. Last year, Peters convened a hearing to examine how servicemembers, their families and communities in Michigan and across the country have been harmed by exposure to toxic PFAS substances connected to military sites. In September 2018, Peters helped convene the first hearing on PFAS contamination in the Senate, assessing the federal response to contamination and remediation. He then convened a field summit in Grand Rapids in November 2018 to shine a light on how the local, state and federal governments are coordinating their response to PFAS.

Below are statements in support of the PFAS Act

“Firefighters are exposed to harmful PFAS chemicals when fighting fires, which could result in disastrous health consequences,” said Kevin Sehlmeyer, State of Michigan Fire Marshal. “By leading this legislation, Senator Peters continues to show his clear commitment to protecting Michigan’s firefighters from PFAS exposure by providing resources to ensure these brave heroes, who risk their lives to keep our communities safe, are not unnecessarily put at risk in the line of duty.”

“I’m grateful to Senator Peters for leading this legislation that will protect Michigan’s firefighters from exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals – which can lead to serious health problems including cancer,” said Matthew Sahr, President of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union. “This bipartisan bill shows Senator Peters’ strong commitment to safeguarding and supporting firefighters across our state.”

“This critical legislation will help protect the health and safety of firefighters and other rescue personnel as they continue to serve in communities across Michigan,” said Fred Timpner, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Fire Fighters. “The Michigan Association of Fire Fighters applauds Senator Peters’ continued efforts to protect firefighters in the line of duty – including by limiting their exposure to harmful PFAS substances.”

“Fire fighters and emergency medical responders have dedicated their lives to protecting others.  Unfortunately, these brave men and women are exposed to dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ while serving their communities, subjecting them to higher risks of cancer and other serious health effects,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  “The IAFF supports measures to curtail the use of these chemicals and commends Senator Peters for his continuous efforts to help protect fire fighters, emergency medical responders, and the communities they serve from unnecessary PFAS exposure."

“I thank Congress for passing this historic legislation. The life of a firefighter is inherently dangerous while also facing a higher risk of cancer than the general population. This legislation will provide important resources to help fire chiefs reduce the risk of their personnel’s exposure to PFAS,” said Chief Donna Black, the President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “I thank Chairman Peters and all of this bill’s supporters for their tireless work to secure its final passage.”

“I’d like to thank Senator Peters for his leadership on the PFAS Act. Firefighters have a greater risk of contracting and dying from cancer than the general public as a result of duty-related exposures,” said Steve Hirsch, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “Enactment of this important legislation will lead to improved health and safety outcomes for firefighter, EMS, and rescue personnel.”