Senators want PFAS studies to include firefighters

December 13, 2018

PORTSMOUTH — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators led by Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are calling for federal health officials to take immediate action to address firefighter exposure to PFAS chemicals.

Twenty-one senators signed on to the letter sent Thursday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

“As you are aware, PFAS chemicals are a byproduct of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant agent, and have been linked to a number of adverse human health effects. The potential ties between PFAS and various forms of cancer are of particular concern to military and civilian firefighters across the country who may have experienced long-term occupational exposure to PFAS due to the use of AFFF in firefighting and fire training exercises,” the senators said in the letter. “Several studies, including a multi-year study completed by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), indicate that firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer compared to the general population in the U.S.”

Shaheen established the first-ever nationwide PFAS health impact study in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will be conducted by ATSDR. She successfully pushed for both the study and millions to fund it after thousands of people who work at Pease International Tradeport, and children who attended two day cares there, were exposed to PFAS chemicals in the now closed Haven well, which is owned by the city of Portsmouth.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, ATSDR states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.

The senators’ letter added they were “disappointed” that neither military nor civilian firefighters will be included in the first ever national PFAS study.

The senators asked that the agencies ensure future studies investigating the potential health effects from PFAS exposure include firefighters and others who are more likely to come into contact with contamination in an occupational setting.

“Firefighters are a vital component of our nation’s emergency response system and risk their lives to protect the communities they serve,” the senators said. “There is a critical need to better understand how PFAS workplace exposure among firefighters may affect the health of these heroes and their families.”

Portsmouth firefighter Russ Osgood called it “wonderful that our senators want to look at these issues that are affecting firefighters.” Osgood has advocated for years on behalf of firefighters who are exposed to all sorts of toxins when they respond to a fire scene.

City firefighters who served at Station 3 at the former Pease Air Force Base were not only exposed to PFAS in drinking water, Osgood said, but also used the water to cook and bathed with it.

There is also evidence that older firefighter response gear included PFAS, Osgood said. “I’m glad that the senators recognize that we face multiple PFAS exposures,” he said.

He doesn’t believe city firefighters used the AFFF foam, but more veteran firefighters likely were exposed to it when they trained with Air Force firefighters.

PFAS is one of 100 toxic chemicals firefighters are exposed to, Osgood said.

“There are hundreds of compounds in fire smoke, it really depends on what’s burning,” he said. “Our homes have become riddled with plastic and that poses a big problem for fire load in homes. They burn fast, they burn hot, they burn really toxic.”


By:  Jeff McMenemy
Source: Seacoast Online