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

WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to help protect the health and safety of firefighters, emergency responders and the communities they serve has advanced in the Senate. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair.

The Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act, which was reintroduced last month, 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.

“Our brave firefighters and first responders put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities in Michigan and across the nation. We owe it to them to ensure that they will be safe from exposure to toxic and dangerous chemicals when they are on the job,” said Senator Peters. “I am proud that our committee approved my commonsense bipartisan legislation to help protect emergency responders from PFAS exposure, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill signed into law.”

“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 thank Senator Peters and members of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for advancing our legislation today, and I am hopeful we will get it passed and signed into law this Congress.”

“Fire fighters in New Hampshire and across the country work hard every day to keep our communities safe, and we must do more to protect them from toxic chemicals while on the job,” said Senator Hassan. “I am glad to be a part of bipartisan efforts to better support the health and wellbeing of our brave fire fighters, and I will continue working with my colleagues to address hazardous PFAS chemicals.”

“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. I applaud the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for unanimously passing this important legislation, and I will continue to work to pass it out of the full Senate quickly."

“I’d like to offer my support of the Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act as introduced by Senator Peters,” said Kevin Sehlmeyer, State of Michigan Fire Marshal.  “I encourage the passage of this bill which will provide training and educational programs that reduce and prevent exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals.  This legislation will ultimately protect the men and women in the fire service who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities.”

“I am very pleased to see that the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Peters, has voted to advance the PFAS Act.” said Chief Kenneth W. Stuebing, the Acting President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “This legislation will develop helpful guidance that local fire departments can use to reduce exposure to PFAS for not only our firefighters but also the citizens we serve.  Now that it has advanced through committee, I urge Congress to pass the PFAS Act 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.

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