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Peters, Gardner, Sullivan & Hassan Bill to Protect Firefighters from Hazardous PFAS Chemicals Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today unanimously approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to help protect the health and safety of firefighters and emergency responders. Emergency response teams are frequently exposed to harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foams 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 of 2019 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 breakdown. The bill would also require guidance to be issued on alternative foams and personal protective equipment that do not contain PFAS.

“Firefighters work tirelessly to keep our communities safe, regularly putting themselves at risk to save the lives of others,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “As we learn more about the dangers of PFAS exposure, it’s our responsibility to help protect the health and safety of those who put their lives on the line in defense of others. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to help keep first responders safe from these dangerous chemicals, and I look forward to the full Senate passing this bill as quickly as possible.”

“Our firefighters and emergency responders in Colorado and around the country risk everything to protect our communities, and it is our duty to make sure they are educated on the best ways to avoid and mitigate any PFAS exposure during emergency response and training activities," said Senator Gardner. "This bipartisan legislation will provide resources to help educate our first responders and limit PFAS exposure, and I’m glad to see it approved by the Homeland Security Committee today. PFAS contamination is a serious issue facing our communities, and I will continue working to make sure Coloradans are provided with the most up to date information concerning PFAS as research regarding their effects on human health continues.”

“This bill is yet another important step toward employing safer practices, limiting exposure to our brave emergency personnel, reducing impacts on our communities, and exploring effective and responsible alternatives to certain PFAS chemicals,” said Senator Sullivan. “I thank the members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for taking such swift action, and I hope to see it on the floor for full consideration soon.”

“Fire fighters put their lives at risk to protect the health and safety of their community, and as lawmakers we must work together to ensure that these heroes have what they need to stay safe,” said Senator Hassan. “I am pleased that the Homeland Security committee advanced this critical bipartisan bill that I helped introduce to lessen fire fighters’ exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals, and I will continue working across the aisle to get this legislation signed into law.”

"Fire fighters have dedicated their lives to protecting others and keeping their communities safe. 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 Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “The IAFF supports bipartisan efforts to address these chemicals and commends Senators Peters and Gardner for their efforts to help protect fire fighters, emergency medical responders, and the communities they serve from unnecessary PFAS exposure."

“Firefighters in Michigan and across the country are exposed to PFAS contamination when fighting hydrocarbon and aviation fires – with potentially dangerous health consequences,” said Kevin Sehlmeyer, State of Michigan Fire Marshal. “This bill will provide resources to ensure that the brave men and women who risk their lives to keep our communities safe are not unnecessarily put at risk in the line of duty. I applaud Senator Peters for his commitment to protecting Michigan’s firefighters from PFAS exposure and urge the swift passage of this crucial legislation in the Senate.”

The IAFC is proud to support the ‘PFAS Act of 2019,” said Chief Dan Eggleston, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “The legislation will provide valuable guidance to members of the fire and emergency service on reducing their exposure to substances containing PFAS and represents an important step toward protecting firefighter health and safety.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of more than 4,700 highly-fluorinated man-made chemicals that have been widely used in industry and consumer products due to their ability to repel water, oil, and heat. Over the last few decades, emerging science has shown that PFAS have an adverse impact on human health and the environment. PFAS exposure has been linked to a number of detrimental health effects, including an increased risk of cancer, damage to the immune system, decreased fertility, birth defects, liver disease, and thyroid disease.

First responders are routinely exposed to PFAS chemicals during emergencies, training activities and other essential duties. Firefighters face disproportionately high levels of PFAS exposure because the substances are a common ingredient in firefighting foams and personal protective equipment. Despite their high risk of exposure, firefighters and emergency response personnel have limited opportunities to prevent and reduce PFAS exposure in their workplace and their communities.

The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act of 2019 would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – 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 would 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.

As Ranking Member of the Senate’s top oversight committee, Peters has led Congressional efforts to address PFAS contamination in Michigan and across the country. Earlier this year, several Peters-led provisions to address PFAS contamination were included in the Senate’s annual National Defense Authorization Act. In April, Peters requested information from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about ongoing federal efforts to address PFAS contamination as well as an evaluation of the financial cost of cleaning up contaminated sites around the country. Peters also introduced bipartisan legislation requiring the EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law. Prior to that, Peters convened the first ever Senate hearing on PFAS to assess the federal role in contamination and clean-up. Last year, Peters authored a provision that is now law to allow airports to transition away from using firefighting foams that contain PFAS. He also secured a provision that was enacted to encourage the Department of Defense to develop PFAS-free firefighting foams.