Bill would create pilot program to test firefighters for cancer-causing ‘forever chemicals’

February 15, 2023

A bill that would set up a pilot program to test firefighters for PFAS “forever chemicals” has recently passed the House and Ways Committee and now awaits a full vote in the Indiana House of Representatives.

House Bill 1219 would establish the pilot program to analyze blood samples of individuals who were previously, or are currently, firefighters for serum PFAS levels and to determine whether there may be similar health implications associated with elevated serum PFAS levels.

PFAS is in both the turnout gear firefighters wear to keep them safe, and the Aqueous Film Forming Form used to fight the most severe fires. As a result, the legislature has taken steps to reduce the exposure firefighters face while on the job.

“Cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty death for firefighters. In my community of South Bend, we had two firefighters die of a rare form of brain cancer in 2019 at the relatively young ages of 41 and 55,” Rep. Maureen Bauer, who authored the bill, told Indiana Environmental Reporter.

More than 9,000 PFAS chemicals exist, but few have been studied extensively. Those that have been studied thoroughly, like PFOA and PFOS, have been linked to an increased risk of developing kidney or testicular cancer, liver and kidney damage, increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreased vaccine response in children and other health conditions.

“With the passage of HB 1219, we will be able to provide individuals with information about their own health, to let them know if they have elevated levels of PFAS in their blood. That information can be used to support more frequent check-ups, health screenings, or treatment — which could be the difference between early detection and a life-threatening diagnosis,” Bauer said. “If rates are, in fact, higher among firefighters, more departments might be encouraged and supported to implement new standard operating procedures to reduce and minimize exposure — as South Bend Fire Department has done and invest in new technology as it becomes available to them.”

PFAS chemicals have been found in the blood of 97% of Americans and can remain in the human body for at least five years after they enter.

“I believe it is our responsibility to ensure all Hoosiers are provided with safe working environments. While there are certain inherent risks in being a firefighter, risking your own health from using the very tools intended to keep you and our community safe should not be one of them,” Bauer said.

PFAS chemicals are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been used since the 1940s to make products that are resistant to water, heat, grease and stains.

Bill would create pilot program to test firefighters for cancer-causing ‘forever chemicals’