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Shaheen, Murkowski Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging CDC and ATSDR to Prioritize Studies on Health Effects of Firefighters’ Exposure to PFAS


Shaheen Established the First-ever Nationwide PFAS Health-Impact Study in the FY2018 Defense Bill 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) led a bipartisan group of 21 Senators in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), requesting that the agencies take additional steps to ensure that the health effects of occupational exposure to per-and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS), particularly in firefighters, are sufficiently studied. 

Senator Shaheen established the first-ever nationwide PFAS health impact study in the fiscal year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will be conducted by ATSDR.  Shaheen and Murkowski’s letter is in response to ATSDR Director Patrick Breysse’s announcement that firefighters will not be included in the ATSDR study. Firefighters, both military and civilian, work in environments that have higher exposure to PFAS, which are found in firefighting foam.  

The Senators wrote, “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. 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.” 

Both NIOSH and ATSDR operate under the CDC. The PFAS health impact study, which was established by Shaheen in Section 316 of the NDAA, allows for the agencies to investigate the human health effects of PFAS contamination through a number of exposure pathways, including those encountered by firefighters. However earlier this year, ATSDR announced that firefighters would not be included in the study. In their letter, the Senators request 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.

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

The letter can be read in full here. 

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Senator Shaheen has prioritized efforts in Congress to uncover the potential health effects from exposure to emerging contaminants. In addition to establishing and funding the PFAS health-impact study for FY2018, Shaheen worked to include an additional $10 million for the second year of the health-impact study, which she authorized in the FY2019 NDAA and appropriated in the defense funding legislation that was signed into law in September. Shaheen also worked to include specific language in the FY2019 defense bill that streamlines the process of transferring funds from DOD to ATSDR, to facilitate the funding process of the study going forward.

Senator Shaheen recently joined a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce legislation that would hold federal agencies accountable to address PFAS contamination at military bases around the country. This bipartisan bill continues Shaheen’s work on PFAS exposure research as it specifically relates to service members and veterans, who are in environments that have higher exposure to these chemicals. In April, Senator Shaheen worked with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) to introduce the PFAS Registry Act, which would create a national database for service members and veterans experiencing health problems potentially due to PFAS exposure. The bill would allow military personnel and veterans to receive updates on recent scientific developments on the effects of PFAS exposure and information on what resources may be available to address their health concerns. 

Senator Murkowski and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, legislation to create a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with the deadly disease. The legislation was signed into law in July 2018.