U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) this week introduced bipartisan legislation to help protect the health and safety of firefighters and emergency responders who 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 would direct 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 guidance to be issued on alternative foams and personnel protective equipment that do not contain PFAS.
“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. 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.”
“Firefighters are unfortunately exposed to extremely high levels of PFAS chemicals in the line of duty. Despite evidence linking PFAS to serious health problems, very little has been done to address the impact these chemicals can have on the health of the brave men and women who look out for our own safety,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to lead the way on this bipartisan initiative, which will encourage safer practices and raise awareness about the emerging public health risks that these forever chemicals pose to the heroes that keep our communities safe in emergency situations.”
“As Congress continues to understand and address the risks of certain PFAS chemicals to our first responders and the environment in which it’s used, I am glad to join a strong, bipartisan coalition focused on addressing this challenge,” said Senator Sullivan. “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 PFAS.”
“Firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line every day to help others — and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to protect their health and safety,” said Senator Hassan. “Given the extensive health issues that can arise from exposure to PFAS chemicals, I joined my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill to help protect first responders from the risks of these dangerous chemicals.”
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. 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.