BOSTON — Chemical compounds receiving attention for leaching into water are also present in fire equipment, and firefighters are turning to Beacon Hill for protection.
A proposal heard by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would force makers of protective equipment worn by firefighters to disclose whether they use fluorinated compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to high cholesterol, liver damage and heightened cancer risk.
“Our first responders are the backbone of our society,” Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, the bill’s primary sponsor, told the panel. “We must ensure that they can perform their duties without being kept in the dark if harmful chemicals are present on the equipment we provide them.”
The plan would not ban the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting equipment, but DiZoglio said it will educate people about the potential risks of the substances.
The measure is supported by firefighters unions and trade groups, as well as environmental groups such as Clean Water Action.
Thousands of PFAS substances have been used to make a range of products, from raincoats, furniture and clothing to cosmetics and nonstick frying pans.
Firefighting foams that contain PFAS substances are used to extinguish fires involving highly combustible materials, such as those in gas tankers or oil refineries.
The substances also are used to make protective gear water resistant, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The substances are often called “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in the body and take decades to degrade.
Massachusetts was among the first states to regulate PFAS chemicals in drinking water, and it boasts one of the toughest standards in the country.
But scientists are increasingly worried about the presence of PFAS substances in food and other products. They have urged the state to eliminate PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and other products, in addition to setting tougher limits on the contaminants in water systems.
Firefighters say they are frequently exposed to the toxic compounds on the job and worry about the long-term effects.
A study published by the journal Nature last year identified firefighting equipment as a “potential source of PFAS inside fire stations,” though it was not clear if the chemicals that scientists detected in dust wiped off the equipment had come from firefighting foam, the equipment itself or another source.
“Obviously, we would like it not to be in the gear,” Craig Hardy of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Massachusetts told the panel Wednesday. “But this bill would at least have the manufacturers let us know that it’s in the gear, and why it’s in the gear.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.