Read the full article by Adam Yahya Rayes (Indiana Public Broadcasting)
“Indiana has two new laws that aim to highlight and begin addressing the risks firefighters face from wearing gear that contains PFAS. Experts say those chemicals likely increase the risk of cancer and other health issues. Those experts also say the risk goes beyond just firefighters.
PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are human-made chemicals found in everything from carpets, to fast food wrappers, to firefighting foams on military bases — like Grissom Air Reserve Base near Kokomo.
Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations biologist, chemist and workplace health and safety program director Nellie Brown says these chemicals are dangerous because they are ‘endocrine disruptors.’
‘When they get into the body, they either mimic hormones or they upset various hormonal balances,’ Brown said. ‘The end result is that we can turn genes on and off inappropriately, we can cause the body’s signals to be all disrupted and every body system is potentially affected by some endocrine disrupting.’
The chemicals used to be present in more parts of firefighter gear. As concerns about PFAS’ potential link to disproportionate rates of cancer among firefighters have been raised, manufacturers have whittled away at their presence in almost every part of the gear except for the moisture barrier.
The first of two PFAS-related bills to pass on to the governor’s desk this year was HEA 1341. The bill wouldn’t allow Indiana fire departments to purchase gear unless it has a label stating whether or not it contains PFAS.
HEA 1219 would create a pilot blood-testing program that up to 1,000 firefighters can volunteer to participate in. The goal is to show how much PFAS is in the firefighters bloodstreams, allowing for better research and potentially helping participating firefighters take steps to protect their health based on the results.
Notre Dame professor Graham Peaslee received piles of gear from firefighters nationwide, wanting him to test it for PFAS. Peaslee has used applied nuclear physics to more effectively measure and study the chemicals.
Peaslee’s widely-cited 2020 study showing the level of exposure firefighters face from the moisture barrier was a source of inspiration for the two bills as well as several lawsuits and other efforts.
‘I couldn’t believe somebody would have missed this for so long,’ Peaslee said. ‘Somebody’s been making this and hasn’t been telling the firefighters. And that’s the issue … they were told it was all safe.’
There is no alternative to firefighters’ PFAS-laden moisture barriers yet due to somewhat controversial standards set by the National Firefighter Protection Association.
Peaslee adds that risk doesn’t begin and end with firefighters’ moisture barriers.
‘After we did the firefighters (studies), I had a sheriff’s department guy call me up from New York and he said, ‘can you test this new uniform I’m supposed to wear?’ Peaslee said.
Because the officer was set to patrol a reservoir, Peaslee said, he had to buy a special uniform set that had waterproof pants. Peaslee said his tests found the pants were ‘heavily’ laden with PFAS.”…