Gillibrand, Rep. Maloney announce bill to protect firefighters from PFAS


New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney were in Newburgh Monday announcing legislation to protect firefighters from PFAS.

The two Democratic federal lawmakers were at the City of Newburgh Fire Department, where they announced the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act. Gillibrand says the legislation would build on New York State’s efforts to restrict foams containing PFAS. It also sets deadlines for airports for prohibiting the use of PFAS firefighting foams.

“It would put much needed new prohibition in place against using firefighting foam that has PFAS chemicals,” Gillibrand says. “It would create a federal ban on the manufacture, importation and sale of firefighting foam that contains PFAS within two years of enactment.”

On the job for a matter of days, Newburgh Fire Chief Francis Spinelli talks about how the legislation would affect firefighter crews in the city and across the country.

“New York already has some of this on the books, and they go through, the Department of Environmental Conservation has rules and regulations, but this is going to expand it to where we can start to address the chemicals that are in our turnout gear,” Spinelli says. “Our firefighter turnout gear is also manufactured with these products in it. So when our people are hot and sweaty and in hazardous atmospheres, we’re absorbing this chemical into our bodies. So this is, this is going to have a long-reaching effect on everything.”

In 2016, PFOS drinking water contamination came to light in Newburgh, where the chemical found in Washington Lake emanated from Stewart Air National Guard base because of the historic use of firefighting foam. The city switched to the Catskill Aqueduct for its drinking water, which is still in place today. Gillibrand points out that PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances dubbed “forever chemicals”, have been used in non-stick products, such as in cookware.

“They’re also used in firefighting, in the firefighting foam and in the clothing and gear that firefighters use, meaning that products meant to protect firefighters to help them put out the fires actually put them in danger,” Gillibrand says.

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WAMC Northeast Report, 22 February 2021