Cantwell, Murray Call on Federal Government to Include Firefighters in Studies on Health Effects of Exposure to PFAS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) this week joined a bipartisan group of 23 senators in requesting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) take additional steps to ensure the health effects of occupational exposure to per-and polyfluoralkyl substance (PFAS), particularly in firefighters, are sufficiently studied.

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

Cantwell and Murray both supported the establishment of 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. However, earlier this year, ATSDR Director Patrick Breysse announced that firefighters will not be included in the study.

In their letter, the senators requested 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 the chemicals in occupational settings. Firefighters, both military and civilian, work in environments that have higher exposure to PFAS, which are found in firefighting foam.

“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 senators continued. “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.”

The PFAS health impact study established in 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.

In addition to Cantwell and Murray, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Robert 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), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), 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).

The full text of the letter can be found HERE.