February 22, 2021

During Visit To Farmingdale Fire Dept, Gillibrand Announces 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 visited the Farmingdale Fire Department on Long Island 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 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 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. 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.

Senator Gillibrand was joined by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito.

“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.” 

“Eradicating proven cancer causing PFAS from firefighting foam will help save the lives of our Firefighters and other First Responders,” said Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand. 

“I applaud Senator Gillibrand for putting forth this legislation to help clean up our environment and rid communities of these harmful chemicals once and for all. These “forever chemicals” not only migrate into our environment and pollute our drinking water, but can directly threaten first-responders who rely on wearing such equipment to save their lives. Nassau’s bravest shouldn’t have to trade their safety now for potentially harmful effects to their health later,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. 

“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

On Long Island and across the country, firefighters experience high risk of PFAS exposure, which has been linked to birth defects, various forms of cancer, and immune system dysfunction. During use of AFFF in firefighting and fire-training exercises, these substances have also been found in their PPE.