Perlmutter, Posey Introduce Legislation to Study Firefighters’ Exposure to PFAS

Lakewood, Colo. – U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Bill Posey (R-FL) today introduced bipartisan legislation to study the prevalence and concentration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the personal protective equipment worn by firefighters as well as firefighters’ risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals. PFAS chemicals are commonly used on firefighting gear to make them more water- and oil-resistant but research has shown PFAS exposure can lead to an increased risk of cancer, the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act of 2020 requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to work in cooperation with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to examine 1) the prevalence of PFAS in personal protective equipment worn by firefighters, 2) the conditions and extent PFAS chemicals are released into the environment through normal use of firefighting equipment, and 3) the relative risk of PFAS exposure faced by firefighters.

“In order to reduce the serious risk to our firefighters, we must first understand the means and the frequency at which firefighters are being exposed to these dangerous chemicals,” said Perlmutter. “These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day for our communities and we must do everything we can to protect them in return.”

“The more we know about the presence of PFAS in the products we manufacture the better we will be able to protect consumers and public health,” said Posey. “First responders such as firefighters sometimes face dangerous conditions and their safety is a priority.”

“As we learn more about the hazards associated with PFAS, we begin to see a link between fire fighters’ on-the-job exposures and their rates of cancer, which are higher than the general public,” said Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of International Association of Fire Fighters representing 322,000 professional firefighters.  “I commend Representative Perlmutter for his efforts on this important issue of PFAS exposures and his continued commitment to protecting the health of fire fighters and the public.”      

“The members of the U.S. fire and emergency service deserve clear answers on the makeup of their personal protective equipment. The Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act represents an investment in the health and safety of our firefighters by determining not only whether PFAS compounds exist in PPE, but the level of risk these compounds pose to the men and women of the fire service, who rely on the equipment to do their jobs. We urge Congress to pass the Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act this year,” said Chief Gary Ludwig, President and Chairman of the Board, International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The final report will include recommendations on additional research or technical improvements to firefighters’ personal protective equipment to avoid unnecessary exposure to PFAS chemicals. The bill would also establish a grant program at NIST to advance the development of safe alternatives to personal protective equipment containing PFAS.  The legislation is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

A recent study from the University of Notre Dame showed “waterproofing chemicals in the protective gear worn by firefighters may be exposing them to “significant quantities” of potentially toxic fluorochemicals.” Previous research on the issue has shown a link between PFAS chemicals and firefighting foams but not the protective gear worn by firefighters. To date, no federal limits on PFAS have been established.

Companion legislation, S. 2525, introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) unanimously passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in November 2019.


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