WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to help protect the health and safety of firefighters, emergency responders and the communities they serve has passed the Senate. The legislation, which was unanimously approved in March by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Peters serves as Chair, now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are also cosponsors of the legislation.
The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act, directs 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 guidance for firefighters and emergency personnel on best practices and training 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 DHS to educate personnel on alternative foams and personal protective equipment that do not contain PFAS.
“Firefighters and first responders in Michigan and across our nation risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe. This bill will help protect these heroes from being exposed to dangerous PFAS chemicals in the line of duty,” said Senator Peters. “Now that this important legislation has passed the Senate, I urge my colleagues in the House to pass it as soon as possible so we can help protect the health and safety of our brave firefighters, emergency responders, and the communities they serve.”
“I’d like to offer my support of the Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act as introduced by Senator Peters,” said Kevin Sehlmeyer, State of Michigan Fire Marshal. “I encourage the passage of this bill which will provide training and educational programs that reduce and prevent exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals. This legislation will ultimately protect the men and women in the fire service who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities.”
“I am very pleased to see that the Senate, led by Chairman Peters, has voted to pass the PFAS Act.” said Chief Kenneth W. Stuebing, the Acting President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “This legislation will develop helpful guidance that local fire departments can use to reduce exposure to PFAS for not only our firefighters but also the citizens we serve. Now that it has advanced through the Senate, I urge the House to pass the PFAS Act as soon as possible.”
"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 Senators Peters for his continuous efforts to help protect fire fighters, emergency medical responders, and the communities they serve from unnecessary PFAS exposure."
“I’d like to thank Senator Peters for leading the Senate to pass 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.”
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 would direct DHS, in consultation with relevant agencies, to create an online public repository of tools and best practices emergency personnel can use to reduce and prevent their exposure to PFAS. DHS also would be required to update regularly its guidance and curriculum developed pursuant to the Act.
As his role on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Peters has led Congressional efforts to address PFAS contamination in Michigan and across the country. Earlier this year, Peters released a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shows the federal government needs to take further action to clean up and prevent contamination from PFAS. Peters supported or led provisions in the 2019 national defense bill banning the Department of Defense from purchasing firefighting foams containing PFAS. The bill also immediately prohibited the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS in military training exercises, and enhanced state cooperation with the Department of Defense regarding clean-up due to PFAS contamination stemming from military-related activities. In September 2018, Peters helped convene the first hearing on PFAS 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.