Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Kildee Introduce Landmark Bill to Protect Firefighters from Toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Used in Firefighting Foam
April 28, 2022
Laws in 10 States Ban PFAS in Firefighting Foam and Gillibrand, Kildee Bill Would Fully Ban Use By 2024—including at Airports
Toxic-Free Future and Safer States applaud sponsors for championing critical next step
WASHINGTON, DC—On Monday, April 25, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Dan Kildee (MI-5) introduced the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act in the House and Senate to ban firefighting foams containing “forever chemicals”— PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The bicameral legislation would prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of all firefighting foam that contain PFAS for use in training and firefighting within two years of enactment. It would also ban the use of PFAS foams at airports by October 2024.
Firefighters have used and trained with PFAS-based foam at commercial and military airports for decades. The PFAS in foam has contaminated drinking water for millions of people nationwide while also putting firefighters at greater risk of toxic chemical exposures that can cause cancer and chronic disease.
A video press conference was held yesterday, Wednesday, April 27 at 1:30p ET by bill sponsors Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Dan Kildee with featured speakers Liz Hitchcock, director of Toxic-Free Future’s Safer Chemicals Healthy Families program and International Association of Fire Fighters General President Edward Kelly.
Toxic-Free Future and Safer States applaud Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Kildee for leading bold action on these “forever” chemicals and released the following statements in response.
“PFAS firefighting foams have contaminated drinking water for communities in Michigan and New York State and across the country,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “Fluorine-free foams are available and in use around the world, with more and more entering the marketplace. It’s time for the federal government to ban these dangerous toxic foams to protect firefighters and the communities they serve.”
“We are thrilled to see the introduction of legislation that follows the lead of ten states across the country from New Hampshire to Washington to Colorado that have banned firefighting foam containing PFAS,” said Sarah Doll, national director, Safer States. “Most recently Maryland adopted the George “Walter” Taylor Act, banning PFAS in firefighting foam in memory of a Southern Maryland Firefighter. States are stepping up to protect firefighters and drinking water and now it’s time for the federal government to do the same.”
“It is critical for Congress to enact a clear ban on all PFAS-containing firefighting foam and for safer alternatives to be adopted, especially for airports, which are among the largest users,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “The federal government should also adopt GreenScreen Certified™ for foam as part of the solution to protect the health of firefighters and to prevent another PFAS-like drinking water contamination catastrophe from happening.”
PFAS IN FIREFIGHTING FOAM BACKGROUND
A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are often referred to as “forever” chemicals because they are not known to break down in the environment and can easily move through soil to drinking water. With remarkable persistence and mobility, PFAS have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife.
Firefighters have used, and trained with, PFAS-based firefighting foam at commercial and military airports for decades. The PFAS in foam has contaminated drinking water for millions of people nationwide while also putting firefighters at greater risk of toxic chemical exposures that can cause cancer and chronic disease.
When Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (PL: 115-254), it gave the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) three years to adjust its requirements for airports to allow the use of firefighting foams that do not contain dangerous PFAS. While FAA issued a “CertAlert” to airports in October 2021 announcing that the firefighting foam standard for airports no longer required the use of fluorinated chemicals (i.e. PFAS), it did not change the requirement for airports to meet the military standard, which is based on the performance of fluorinated foams. While the FAA said airports can seek approval for PFAS-free foams, it laid out no clear path for them to achieve this approval.
PFAS in firefighting foam is currently banned in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington. In March 2018, Washington state became the first state in the nation to place restrictions on PFAS in firefighting foam, and, two years later, the state removed exemptions from the law making it the strongest ban in the country.
There are safer, effective alternatives that do not contain PFAS and there is an environmental certification called GreenScreen Certified™, that is currently the only way to ensure foam is fluorine-free and free of other equally harmful chemicals.
Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that advances the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through science, organizing, advocacy, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a Toxic-Free Future program dedicated to achieving strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. Mind the Store is a Toxic-Free Future program that challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives, and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies in an annual Retailer Report Card.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future.
“We are thrilled to see the introduction of legislation that follows the lead of ten states across the country from New Hampshire to Washington to Colorado that have banned firefighting foam containing PFAS. Most recently Maryland adopted the George “Walter” Taylor Act, banning PFAS in firefighting foam in memory of a Southern Maryland Firefighter. States are stepping up to protect firefighters and drinking water and now it’s time for the federal government to do the same.” - Sarah Doll, national director, Safer States. “