A new report from a task force studying PFAS, or “eternal chemicals” commonly found in nonstick cookware, some firefighter clothing and gear, is hailed by the firefighting community.
“It was truly shocking, both through the testimonies we heard and coming to understand that PFAS is in all of the turnout equipment used by our firefighters, and with the increase in PFAS in equipment, we will also see an increase in cancer rates. said state Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow, co-chair of the committee.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are added to products to make them resistant to water, grease and stains, but they persist in the environment and the human body and can cause a myriad of effects on health, including kidney and liver disease, immune system suppression, birth defects, and cancer. PFAS have been detected in water supply systems across the state.
After nine public hearings over the past few months, the committee issued 30 recommendations in eight key policy areas. These eight areas include funding PFAS detection and remediation, supporting environmental justice communities, phasing out PFAS in consumer products, expanding private well testing for PFAS, and support for firefighters and local fire departments.
Firefighters from advocacy groups across the state testified throughout the task force hearing process, which Hogan called “really moving and incredibly insightful.”
State Fire Department Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey served on the task force. “We know we are exposing firefighters to carcinogens,” he said, adding that the firefighting community is also concerned about its environmental impacts.
“Large amounts of PFAS exist in our fire equipment, and these chemicals have been forever linked to numerous cancers,” said Rich MacKinnon, Jr. President of Massachusetts Professional Firefighters. “This report is a step in the right direction to keep firefighters healthy. We are now looking to the National Fire Protection Association to make the necessary changes and ban PFAS from our equipment.
According to one estimate, up to 68% of firefighters develop cancer, compared to 22% of the general population.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, also noted that Massachusetts would be “one of the few other states,” including Maine and California, that would implement a consumer ban on PFAS products, which would be phased out by 2030, and labeled before that as containing the chemical.
Hogan said lawmakers were pursuing “multiple legislative opportunities” through multiple bills to advance those recommendations. She and Cyr noted that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health have received significant funding increases, which could bolster those efforts.