Tag Archive for: PFAS

Firefighters sound the alarm on PFAS chemicals

Ask lawmakers to ban PFAS in firefighter personal protective equipment

Paul Jacques and Sean Mitchell and Jason Burns Jul 9, 2022

From Commonwealth on Line, July 9, 2022

IF YOU WERE to call 911 right now, firefighters would arrive at your door within four minutes.  They would assess the problem and not leave until it was resolved.

Massachusetts firefighters have a problem, and we are sounding the alarm.  Our firefighter personal protective equipment — the uniforms we wear to fight fires and respond to emergencies — contain toxic per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS are a class of chemicals linked to a wide array of health problems.  PFAS cause testicular cancer, kidney cancer, endocrine disruption, immune suppression, liver disease, altered mammary gland development, and asthma, among many other health problems.

Independent studies have shown that the PFAS in firefighter gear remains in the air and dust of Fire Stations.  Every day firefighters inhale, ingest, and absorb PFAS. Each time we wear or touch our gear we physically absorb PFAS.  Additionally, when our uniforms are cleaned, toxic PFAS are washed down floor drains into the local community’s wastewater.

According to the International Association of Firefighters, 75 percent of line of duty deaths in 2021 were due to occupational cancer. Cancers are killing our firefighters at alarming rates, so we must take the opportunity to limit our exposure to any additional chemicals that are not deemed essential for function or use in society, especially when innovation has shown safer alternatives are available. Our constant and unnecessary exposures to PFAS must come to an end.

The solution?  Massachusetts firefighters are asking the State Legislature to ban PFAS in firefighter personal protective equipment

Until recently, most of us had never heard of PFAS.  We understood the dangers associated with smoke and fire, but never imagined the uniforms we wear could contain harmful toxic chemicals.

For decades, chemical manufacturers promoted the benefits of PFAS.   They worked with government regulators to require the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. Representatives from chemical companies and gear manufacturers joined the Technical Committees of the National Fire Protection Association and created standards that required PFAS be added to firefighters’ gear. All the while, these chemical companies were funding research that seemed to minimize the harmful effects of PFAS while promoting their sales and increasing profits.

Consequently, it is impossible to purchase personal protective equipment that does not contain PFAS.  That means, while Massachusetts is paying millions to clean up PFAS contamination in drinking water, firefighters continue to be forced to wear gear with those very same chemicals.

That isn’t right.  The gear we use to protect us should not shorten our lives or expose us to chemicals so harmful they need to be regulated at a “parts per trillion” level. We are asking the Massachusetts Legislature to act urgently, before the end of July 2022, and pass H2475/S1576 An Act relative to the reduction of certain toxic chemicals in firefighter personal protective equipment.

Meet the Author

Paul Jacques and Sean Mitchell and Jason Burns

Sean Mitchell is deputy chief of the Nantucket Fire Department; Paul Jacques is the legislative agent for Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts; Jason Burns is the District 8 vice president for Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts.

Panel targets ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

  • Gloucester Daily Times, June 2, 2021

BOSTON — A new state panel is looking at ways to detect and remove so-called “forever chemicals” from drinking water.

On Tuesday, members of the PFAS Interagency Task Force met virtually for the first time to look at contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in water systems and come up with a plan to help cities and towns test for and treat the problem.

The chemicals, used to make products from frying pans to firefighting foam, have been detected in the water at increasing levels.

Rep. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers, a member of the task force, said she has become more “alarmed” by evidence of the chemicals contaminating drinking water. She said the panel needs to “figure out the roadmap” to deal with the problem.

“It just doesn’t get any more basic for me than clean, safe drinking water,” Kerans said during the hearing. “It’s a fundamental obligation of government.”

Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, told the panel that at least 600 water systems have been tested to date and a majority have not exceeded the state’s standard for PFAS contamination.

“Thankfully a lot of systems have come back with no issues,” Suuberg told the panel.

He said the agency is working with at least 23 communities that reported excessive PFAS levels to reduce the contamination.

Last year, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration set requirements for public water systems to test for so-called PFAS and remove the contamination if concentrations of six specific chemicals are found above 20 parts per trillion.

Under the rules, polluters must clean soil and groundwater at contaminated sites if PFAS levels are above the new standards.

Locally, Danvers was among the communities that showed elevated levels of the chemicals, MassDEP says, but town officials have pointed out that the tests were from two wells, taken several years ago, and there has been no contamination of the town’s water treatment plant.

Meanwhile, MassDEP has conducted tests for PFAS in nearly 1,500 private drinking water wells in 63 communities at the behest of local officials.

Of those tests, 95% were negative for the chemicals. But wells in several communities — including Newbury — showed levels of PFAS above the state’s new standard, Suuberg said.

He said the state is also waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize testing requirements for PFAS discharges from wastewater treatment plants. Once those are in place, he said, the state will require monitoring for PFAS in treated wastewater that is discharged into the Merrimack River and other bodies of water.

The chemicals used in products from rain coats to upholstery have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in the human body and can take thousands of years to degrade.

Research has found potential links between PFAS and illnesses such as kidney cancer and high cholesterol, as well as complications in pregnancies.

Dozens of states are weighing proposals to eliminate PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products, in addition to setting limits on the contaminants.

New Hampshire set limits on four PFAS chemicals in public drinking water supplies, ranging from 12 to 15 parts per trillion. Its limits went into effect in 2019.

There are currently no federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, but guidelines set a combined limit of 70 ppt.

The state task force is required to submit a report with findings and recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the year.