With a signature from President Joe Biden, the Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances (PFAS) Act became law this week, officially directing federal agencies to create new best practices, training, and educational programs to limit and shield firefighters from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
PFAS, or forever chemicals, gained significant public attention in recent years due to their health effects, wide-reaching deployment, and inability to naturally break down. Particularly, the substances were used in foams and personal protective equipment used by firefighters over the years. This left them frequently exposed to harmful per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been linked to numerous health problems such as cancer, even as they worked to protect others.
“We need to protect firefighters and first responders from harmful PFAS substances in the line of duty,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said. “This new law will help the federal government ensure that our heroes are safe from these forever chemicals that continue to pose a threat to the health and safety of emergency responders in Michigan and across the country.”
Peters authored the legislation, along with U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). It was guided through the House through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and backed at large by organizations including the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Michigan professional firefighting associations, among others.
“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,” 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 President Biden for signing this crucial legislation into law.”
Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will have to develop educational resources for firefighters, emergency response personnel and the communities they serve, focused on protection from PFAS exposure. Details will be included on federal, state, and local firefighters on training and best practices to prevent and reduce PFAS exposure and resources to locate alternatives for firefighting tools and equipment without PFAS.