Peters, Sullivan, Hassan & Tillis Bipartisan Bill to Protect Firefighters from Hazardous PFAS Chemicals to be Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to help protect the health and safety of firefighters and emergency responders from PFAS exposure has passed the House. 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. The legislation, which passed the Senate last summer and was led through the House by U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“Firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities in Michigan and across the nation safe,” said Senator Peters. “This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will protect our heroes from harmful PFAS substances and minimize exposure to these dangerous chemicals that continue to harm residents and communities in Michigan and across the country.”

“Our brave firefighters face a disproportionate level of exposure to certain harmful PFAS chemicals as they carry out their duty to keep our neighbors and communities safe,” said Senator Sullivan. “I applaud my House colleagues for passing our legislation to prioritize the health and well-being of these selfless public servants. Once the President signs the PFAS Act, we will be able to better limit PFAS exposure, employ safer practices, and also find responsible alternatives to these chemicals.”

“Fire fighters routinely put their lives on the line to keep us safe, and they face additional risk from exposure to toxic substances in firefighting foams and personal protective equipment,” said Senator Hassan. “I introduced this commonsense, bipartisan bill to reduce fire fighters’ exposure to PFAS substances that are linked to numerous health problems including certain cancers. I am glad that this bill has passed the House and Senate, and look forward to seeing the President sign this into law.”

“Firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line to keep communities safe, and they should not have to worry about being exposed to harmful chemicals like PFAS,” said Senator Tillis. “This legislation will develop guidelines to keep our first responders safe and limit the introduction of these harmful contaminants into the environment. I applaud the House for passing this crucial legislation and look forward to President Biden signing it into law.”

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 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.

Below are statements in support of the PFAS Act.

“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.”

“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.”