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

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) applauded Senate passage of their bipartisan bill 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 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 risk their lives every day to protect our local communities in Michigan and across the country,” said Senator Peters. “We must make every effort to protect their health and safety, including preventing potential exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals. I am proud that the Senate has passed my bipartisan legislation that will help ensure first responders and the communities they serve are safe from these dangerous chemicals, and I will fight to ensure its swift passage into law.”

“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 Senate.”

“The work that our firefighters and other emergency responders do to keep us safe is nothing less than heroic,” said Senator Sullivan. “In turn, we should be doing all we can to make sure to protect their safety—including keeping them from being exposed to harmful chemicals. I thank my Senate colleagues for supporting this effort to protect our brave first responders, and I look forward to members of the House taking up this important bill soon.”

“Granite State fire fighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities, and we must do everything that we can to help reduce their exposure to hazardous PFAS chemicals,” said Senator Hassan. “I am pleased that the Senate passed this bipartisan legislation to better protect fire fighters from these dangerous chemicals, and I will continue working to support our first responders and help get this important bipartisan bill signed into law.”  

“Fire fighters have committed their lives to serving others while keeping communities safe.  Regrettably, these brave men and women experience repeated exposures to toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in their day-to-day work, subjecting them to higher risks of cancer and other serious health effects,” stated Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  “The IAFF is grateful for the bipartisan work of Senators Peters and Gardner leading to the Senate passing legislation addressing measures to prevent fire fighters and emergency medical responders from exposures to toxic PFAS as they continue serving American communities.”

“I thank Senator Peters, Senator Gardner, and the other cosponsors for their work to pass 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 urge the House to move quickly to pass this bill.”

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 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 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.