PFAS in foam contaminates water sources and poses health risks for firefighters; alternatives work
February 24, 2020 - Sacramento – Last week, Senator Ben Allen introduced SB 1044 to ban the sale and use of dangerous chemicals found in firefighting foams. These chemicals, known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or 'PFAS' chemicals, do not break down once introduced into the environment—the reason that they are widely referred to as “forever chemicals.”
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line to defend our communities and we know that with climate change, they will face even greater risks as wildfires worsen. We cannot stand by and allow them to face increased exposure to toxic chemicals that can be easily and affordably replaced,” said Senator Allen. “We must act quickly to protect firefighters from this unnecessary hazard. And as our communities brace themselves for ongoing fire risk, we must shield them from even further damage from drinking water contamination.”
PFAS constitute a large class of man-made chemicals used widely in industrial processes and consumer products such as non-stick cookware and food packaging, clothing, carpets, cosmetics and even certain types of firefighting foam. They have been linked to numerous chronic health hazards, including delayed puberty, infertility, liver and kidney damage, immune system toxicity, and cancer. Due to their widespread use and persistence, toxic PFAS chemicals now contaminate our food, air, water and bodies.
“The use of PFAS in firefighting foams poses an unacceptable additional health risk to our firefighters and especially those working at airports and federal installations,” said Brian K. Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters. “We know there are alternatives that do not pose the same exposure risk or potentially devastating public health effects. It is time to phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foams.” National drinking water monitoring several years ago revealed contamination by four PFAS in 28 public water systems in California that serve approximately 3.5 million Californians. Recent California testing reveals the contamination is much more widespread, in terms of both locations and number of PFAS chemicals. PFAS have been detected in the blood of over 98% of Americans tested.
"Firefighters are on the frontline of toxic chemical exposures, including from PFAS chemicals present in firefighting foam," said Nancy Buermeyer, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners’ senior policy strategist. "This is a problem because toxic PFAS chemicals have been linked to numerous health impacts, including breast cancer – a huge concern for women firefighters. These heroes risk their lives every day to save others, now it’s our time to protect them by getting PFAS out of firefighting foams!"
“We're finding PFAS in drinking water sources throughout California, and PFAS firefighting foam is a major contributor", said Andria Ventura of Clean Water Action. "In a state prone to severe drought and deadly fires, we cannot continue to put water sources and our heroic fire fighters at continued risk by using these unnecessary foams any longer."
“The removal of PFAS from firefighting foam is long overdue. Our firefighters don’t need it, and our health certainly doesn’t. Since PFAS-free foams are already on the market, it makes sense to use them instead of their toxic counterparts,” said Susan Little, Environmental Working Group’s Senior Advocate for California Government Affairs.
“This bill will remove these toxic forever chemicals from foam to be replaced with safer alternatives available today,” said Dr. Anna Reade, a staff scientist at Natural Resource Defense Council. “We should be moving away from these harmful chemicals as fast as possible for the sake of our health and that of future generations.”
Similar legislation has been passed in Washington, Colorado, New Hampshire, and New York.
Ben Allen represents the 26th State Senate District which consists of the Hollywood, Westside, and South Bay communities of Los Angeles County. He is co-chair of the California state legislature's Environmental Caucus. The Environmental Quality Committee that he chairs oversees statewide policy on climate change, air pollution, toxins, and automobile emissions.
Source: Senator Ben Allen