For more than four decades, toxic substances – known as PFAS – have been present in firefighting foam used by Department of Defense (DoD) fire fighters, yet the full extent of their exposure remains unknown. To better understand the levels of exposure, the IAFF joined with U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Representatives Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Mike Turner (R-OH) to author and introduce the Protecting Military Fire Fighters From PFAS Act.
The bills, HR 1863 in the House and S 858 in the Senate, would require DoD fire fighters to be tested to determine the presence of PFAS in the body as part of their annual physicals.
“The IAFF fully supports the medical monitoring called for by the Protecting Military Fire Fighters From PFAS Act,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “These fire fighters dedicate their careers to protecting the public and our military, and it is incumbent on the DoD to monitor their levels of PFAS toxins.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared PFAS as toxic substances, and recommends an individual lifetime exposure limit of 70 parts per trillion. But because of their normal exposure to PFAS-laden foam on the job, DoD fire fighters are likely to exceed this lifetime limit.
Toxic PFAS enter the body through inhalation, absorbtion and ingestion, and have been linked to a variety of illnesses or health conditions, including thyroid, bladder, kidney and liver cancers, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Furthermore, because PFAS are bioaccumulative and remain in the body for two to nine years following exposure, the dangers from repeated exposure – such as faced by DoD fire fighters – make risks posed by the substance even greater.
The bill was featured as a key legislative issue at the recent IAFF Legislative Conference, and response to the bills’ introduction in the House and Senate has been largely positive. Testing DoD fire fighters for PFAS will help them and their physicians better plan for and respond to their own health issues, as well as allow occupational medicine physicians at military bases to better follow exposure trends. Additionally, because DoD fire fighters already undergo an annual physical, including blood collection and testing, the cost of the legislation is expected to be relatively low.
The IAFF intends to pursue this legislation aggressively with the hope of enacting it in the current Congress.