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.
Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey introduced Gillibrand.
“The bill she’s going to introduce works hand in hand with public safety, keeping our residents safe, having clean drinking water for the City of Newburgh and our neighboring towns,” Harvey says.
“A new scientific study found unequivocal evidence that these foams had an unacceptably high level of two toxic PFAS chemicals in the blood of firefighters,” says Gillibrand.
And one of those chemicals, according to a 2019 scientific review, is PFOS. Scientists say PFAS chemicals cause a number of adverse health effects, including on the thyroid and pancreas. And the substances can be toxic to the liver and the kidneys, are linked to kidney and testicular cancer and impact the immune system.
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s district office is in Newburgh.
“We know that the firefighting foam used out at Stewart and by the Defense Department and so many military facilities, and the same firefighting foams that are used by departments like this one, are the source of this contamination,” Maloney says. “And so it’s obviously a concern for the safety of the firefighters who have to deploy these materials in an emergency. We do that here on the, we stockpile them here, I know, on the [Hudson] river for use of the new firefighting equipment on the river. So this is a real, live issue. Getting these hazardous materials out of the substances that our firefighters use is critical.”
Maloney, who represents the 18th District, will co-sponsor the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act in the House. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhuas:
“This fire department is one of the busiest fire departments in the state. The firefighters here are constantly answering calls,” Neuhaus says. “So what we can do to make their lives safer, Senator, we’re with you 100 percent.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation at the end of 2019 to phase out the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam.