The IAFC has supported Congressional efforts to address the threat of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) substances in firefighting technologies. This month, two Senate committees considered and passed PFAS legislation endorsed by the IAFC.
In July, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced the Protecting First Responders from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act of 2019 (S. 2353). The PFAS Act of 2019 directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in consultation with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop guidance for the fire and emergency service to:
- Reduce exposure to PFAS
- Limit the release of PFAS into the environment
- Learn about safer alternative foams
As directed by the bill, FEMA would create and maintain an online repository of this guidance, as well as other vetted resources. The bill provides reliable public resources to first responders on PFAS use and exposure, something which the IAFC supports and believes can help protect responder health and safety. S. 2353 currently has 13 cosponsors and passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on November 6.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has also been a leader on PFAS in the fire service. In September, Senator Shaheen and Senator Gardner introduced the Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act of 2019 (S. 2525).
Within three months of the bill’s enactment, the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in consultation with the director of NIOSH, would begin a study of the composition and make-up of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by firefighters.
The study would determine three things:
- The concentration of PFAS in PPE
- The potential for environmental pollution from retired PPE
- Firefighters’ risk of exposure to PFAS through PPE
Within one year of the beginning of the study, NIST would issue a report to Congress that includes research recommendations or technical improvements to PPE that will “avoid unnecessary occupational exposure among firefighters” to PFAS in PPE.
Using these findings, the director of NIST will solicit research proposals that will carry out these recommendations, with proposed funding levels of up to $5 million. State and local governments, public institutions, private entities, and non-profit entities will be able to apply for these grants. S. 2525, like S. 2353, would ensure first responders are aware and educated about the risks of occupational PFAS exposure. S. 2525 takes proactive steps to address any risk of PFAS that may be present in our protective gear. S. 2525 passed the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on November 13.
The IAFC recognizes the need for leadership in addressing the threat of PFAS chemicals and supports the work of these and other members of Congress that seek to protect members of the fire and emergency services from dangerous PFAS exposure.
The IAFC is requesting that the Senate consider and pass both S. 2353 and S. 2525.
You can learn more about the PFAS issue at the IAFC’s PFAS resource page.
Brandon Allen is a Government Relations Manager for the IAFC.