Peters, Sullivan, Hassan & Tillis Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Firefighters from Hazardous PFAS Chemicals

WASHINGTON, DC – 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) reintroduced a bipartisan bill to help protect the health and safety of firefighters, emergency responders and the communities they serve. The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act, which passed the Senate last Congress, 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 guidance to be issued on alternative foams and personal protective equipment that do not contain PFAS. U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are also original cosponsors of the bill.

“Protecting firefighters from harmful exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals is the least we can do for these heroes who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Peters. “I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill that will help protect the health and safety of first responders by limiting their exposure to these harmful chemicals in the line of duty.”

“Our brave firefighters face a disproportionate exposure to certain harmful PFAS chemicals as they carry out their duty to their neighbors and communities,” said Senator Sullivan. “We need to do more to prioritize the health and well-being of these selfless public servants, and this legislation in an important first step toward limiting PFAS exposure, employing safer practices, and finding responsible alternatives to these chemicals. I appreciate Senator Peters and members of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for their work on this important issue, and I am hopeful our bill will get passed and signed into law this Congress.”

“Fire fighters and first responders risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and it is unacceptable that they are regularly exposed to dangerous PFAS chemicals in their firefighting equipment,” Senator Hassan said. “I am proud to join in reintroducing this bipartisan legislation to protect the health and safety of our fire fighters and help ensure that they can serve our communities without having to worry about long-term harm from the gear that is supposed to protect them.”  

“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 when called to emergencies,” 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.”  

“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 introducing 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 thank Senator Peters for his continued leadership on the PFAS Act,” said Chief Richard R. Carrizzo, the President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “As we learn more about PFAS, it is important for fire departments to adopt policies to reduce firefighters’ and the general public’s exposure. This legislation will develop helpful guidance that local fire departments can use. I welcome the PFAS Act’s reintroduction and urge Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”

“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 measures to address 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 his leadership in introducing 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 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 top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Peters has led Congressional efforts to address PFAS contamination in Michigan and across the country. 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.