December 13, 2018

Senator Warren Joins Bipartisan Letter Urging CDC and ATSDR to Prioritize Studies on Health Effects of Firefighters’ Exposure to PFAS

The Group of Bipartisan Senators Request Additional Action to Determine Whether Prolonged Contact PFAS Contaminants is a Contributing Factor to the High Incidences of Cancer

Full Text of Letter (PDF) 

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and a bipartisan group of 20 Senators in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), requesting that the agencies take additional steps to ensure that the health effects of occupational exposure to per-and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS), particularly in firefighters, are sufficiently studied.

The letter is in response to ATSDR Director Patrick Breysse’s announcement that firefighters will not be included in the ATSDR study. Firefighters, both military and civilian, work in environments that have higher exposure to PFAS, which are found in firefighting foam. 

“As you are aware, PFAS chemicals are a byproduct of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant agent, and have been linked to a number of adverse human health effects,” the Senators wrote. “The potential ties between PFAS and various forms of cancer are of particular concern to military and civilian firefighters across the country who may have experienced long-term occupational exposure to PFAS due to the use of AFFF in firefighting and fire training exercises. Several studies, including a multi-year study completed by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), indicate that firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer compared to the general population in the U.S.”

Both NIOSH and ATSDR operate under the CDC. The PFAS health impact study allows for the agencies to investigate the human health effects of PFAS contamination through a number of exposure pathways, including those encountered by firefighters. However earlier this year, ATSDR announced that firefighters would not be included in the study. In their letter, the Senators request that the agencies ensure future studies investigating the potential health effects from PFAS exposure include firefighters and others who are more likely to come into contact with contamination in an occupational setting.

“Firefighters are a vital component of our nation's emergency response system and risk their lives to protect the communities they serve,” the Senators concluded. “There is a critical need to better understand how PFAS workplace exposure among firefighters may affect the health of these heroes and their families.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

In August, Senator Warren filed two amendments to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to improve data collection and research conducted on health and occupational safety concerns facing firefighters, police officers and other first responders in the Commonwealth.