February 22, 2021

During Visit To City Of Newburgh Fire Dept, Senator Gillibrand And Congressman Maloney Announce Legislation To Protect Firefighters From Toxic PFAS Chemical Exposure

Gillibrand’s PFAS Firefighter Protection Act Builds on Continued Efforts to Address PFAS Contamination Across the Country in Drinking Water and on Military Sites; PFAS Have Been Linked to Birth Defects, Cancer, and Immune System Dysfunction

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney visited the City of Newburgh Fire Department to announce the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act: a critical piece of legislation to better protect firefighters in New York and across the country from toxic exposure to PFAS chemicals. PFAS are used as an ingredient in special foam used to fight fires, called aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). The use of this foam, particularly at training facilities, exposes firefighters to toxic PFAS. Additionally, runoff from the use of AFFF has been discovered as the source of groundwater and drinking water contamination for communities near the facilities where it is used. PFAS chemicals have also been found in firefighters’ PPE. They have been previously linked to cancer and other serious health problems.

Specifically, the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act would ban the manufacture, importation and sale of all firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals within two years of enactment. Gillibrand’s proposed federal ban would build on New York State’s efforts to restrict PFAS containing foams. It also sets firm deadlines for airports for prohibiting the use of PFAS firefighting foams. Current law states that the FAA shall not require airports to use firefighting foam that contains PFAS. This legislation would prohibit its use by 2024.  

“The dangers posed by PFAS firefighting foam, and runoff from its use, are well known and widespread. We have seen, in New York and across the country, a clear link between the use of PFAS firefighting foam at airports and on military bases and dangerous levels of PFAS in the drinking water of the surrounding communities,” said Senator Gillibrand. “While we can never remove all of the risks that firefighters confront on the job, this legislation would go a long way toward reducing some of the most unnecessary long-term health risks they face. I am proud to introduce this bill and I promise to fight for it until it is law.” 

“Water contaminated with PFAS is harming families from coast to coast. It’s long past time the federal government gets serious about addressing every aspect of this health crisis from day one — not just after the damage is done. I’m proud to support this bill. We need forward-thinking policies at the federal level to stop the spread of PFAS, because what happened in Newburgh should never happen again. Every community should be protected from these toxic chemicals,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.

Orange County’s firefighters have made a commitment to public service and risk their own lives to save others each day. The PFAS Firefighter Protection Act will help these brave men and women perform their duties with protections designed to keep them safe and healthy. These chemicals have been linked to cancer and other serious diseases and Senator Gillibrand’s legislation is an important measure that will prevent them from being used in the future.” - Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus 

“The City of Newburgh knows all too well the effects of PFAS contamination. We support the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act and thank Senator Gillibrand for her efforts to protect the lives and health of our firefighters, residents, and community. We need to do all we can to ensure a healthy and clean environment free from these toxic ‘forever’ chemicals for our future generations. Public safety is our number one priority.” – City of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey

"I welcome the introduction of this essential legislation. Firefighting is inherently dangerous and exposes our personnel to numerous substances that are harmful to us. The products we are using to extinguish fires should not add to the already toxic load on our bodies. Going forward this legislation will reduce the number of carcinogens that firefighters across the nation are exposed to." – City of Newburgh Fire Chief Francis Spinelli  

“These toxic chemicals were first developed to simplify our lives, but now they are making us sick. These chemicals are a serious problem due to their elusive and persistent nature which allows them to bio accumulate. Their widespread use has led to them being almost ubiquitous in our environment.  It is critical that we have federal policies to reduce public exposure and protect our drinking water. We are delighted that Senator Gillibrand is providing critical leadership in fighting to protect public health and our environment from this significant threat,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. 

“PFAS presents one of the greatest challenges to our drinking water systems. It has been associated with firefighting foam at or around airports, military bases, manufacturing, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills. New York State has regulated and established strict maximum contaminant levels for public drinking water systems. Sen. Gillibrand has been fighting for years for a greater federal role and responsibility to address the severity of this contaminant in communities in New York and across the nation. Designating PFAS as a hazardous substance will enable local governments to tap federal superfund funding. Local governments applaud Sen. Gillibrand for fighting for federal funding at military bases and for protecting our firefighters from PFAS in turn-out gear and exposure to firefighting foam used at airports or fire training facilities. The Federal Government should set national standards.” -New York State Association of Counties Executive Director, Stephen J. Acquario