Two New England senators are calling for at least some firefighter protective turnout gear to be replaced because of potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators reported Monday that the chemical, PFOA, has been linked in some studies to certain kinds of cancer.
“We need to make sure any equipment that is contaminated that can’t be cleaned up is replaced,” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said.
Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire agreed.
“We should look at whether there are other countries, other locations that use firefighter protective gear that doesn’t have these chemicals and we should work as quickly as possible to replace that gear,” she said.
Hassan is a member of a committee in the U.S. Senate that held the first-ever hearing on PFAS, a group of chemicals that includes PFOA that potentially causes cancer and is used as a water repellent in firefighters turnout gear and in firefighting foam.
The hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, on which Hassan sits, highlighted the urgency of addressing PFAS in drinking water contaminated from use of the foam around military bases.
A $100 million study approved to review health effects of PFOA on military bases did not include firefighters in its scope.
“We are hearing a lot of concerns from firefighters whose protective gear contains PFAS,” Hassan said. She asked Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, whether the Department of Defense is researching the chemical’s impact on firefighters.
“I am not aware of any research of the gear itself,” Sullivan said.
Hassan urged the Department of Defense to keep digging and including firefighters.
“Here we have people putting their lives on the line, first responders as firefighters, people in active service for us, and a great irony here is the protective gear may, in fact, become the long-term devastating health consequences,” Hassan said.
The chemical is no longer manufactured in the United States and new water-resistant chemicals are in new gear.
“Although major US manufacturers have assured IAFF the PFOA is no longer persistent in the turnout gear, to protect the firefighter's health we support discontinuing the use of legacy foams and turnout gear containing PFOA,” according to testimony by Lt. Timothy Putnam of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Putnam testified the firefighter association supports yearly physicals to determine levels of the chemical in firefighters’ bloodstream.
According to the centers for disease control, some studies have found workers producing the chemical PFAS have an increased risk in some diseases including cancer.
Other studies found no correlation.
Putnam testified Europe and Australia use firefighting foam with new different chemicals.
The senators say they want to look at other countries and what they’re now using in their firefighter turnout gear.