New York State Policymakers Pass Bill to Protect Drinking Water and Fire Fighters from Toxic Chemicals

Advocates applaud the action to improve
New York’s environment, public health, & occupational health

(Albany, NY - June 21, 2019) Today, with a vote of 129-1, elected officials passed a Bill (S.439-A Hoylman) / A.445-A Steck) aimed at reducing harmful PFAS chemicals in firefighting activities.The legislation will protect New Yorkers, fire fighters, drinking water, and the environment from PFAS now in firefighting foams. It will prohibit any person, local government or state agency from discharging or otherwise using for training purposes Class B firefighting foam containing PFAS, and prohibit the sale or distribution of PFAS-containing Class B firefighting foam in NYS. The policy also requires that when firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE) is sold, the seller must provide written notice to the purchaser if the PPE contains PFAS chemicals, and justification for its presence.


PFAS chemicals are dangerous to human health and the environment. They do not break down in the environment or the human body, spread widely when released into the environment, and contribute to numerous serious health problems. They are so persistent in the environment, they've been dubbed “forever” chemicals.


Firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals has contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans, including 1.8 million New Yorkers. Residents who unknowingly consumed the contaminated water now carry these harmful chemicals in their bodies.


The JustGreen Partnership and professional fire fighters from across the state lauded the action, which came as the result of extensive environmental health and justice advocacy efforts.


“As we’ve seen in Newburgh, PFAS chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases are too dangerous to allow in firefighting foam because they easily seep into lakes, rivers and groundwater, and endanger the health of our brave firefighters who risk everything to protect New Yorkers,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, sponsor of S.2000. “I’m grateful to have the support of advocates like Clean and Healthy New York and Assemblymember Phil Steck, and look forward to the Governor signing it into law as soon as possible. Without this law, PFAS chemicals will continue to pollute drinking water near airports, air bases and firehouses where foam is commonly used and stored.”


“These ‘forever chemicals’ have contaminated the drinking water of millions of New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Phil Steck, sponsor of A.445. “In addition to dealing with associated human health concerns, including increased cancer risk, communities with PFAS-contaminated water face high costs for remediation and cleanup. This legislation will help protect both public health and the health of our fire fighters, which is why I am proud to sponsor this Bill alongside Senator Hoylman.”


“New York’s fire fighters, who spend every day ensuring the safety of others, deserve to know the chemicals they use to perform their job won’t make them sick,” said Kathy Curtis, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York and Co-leader of the JustGreen Partnership. “PFAS chemicals contaminate the drinking water of 1.8 million New Yorkers, resulting in health concerns and high cleanup costs. This legislation will help prevent pollution and subsequent human exposure in the first place, and further protect fire fighters, the environment, and all New Yorkers. On behalf of the JustGreen Partnership, I’d like to thank Assemblymember Steck and Senator Hoylman for their leadership in achieving this meaningful victory,” Curtis added.


“Most people are aware of the immediate dangers fire fighters face in their line of work, but may not realize the longterm risks associated with inhalation, dermal absorption,  and ingestion of chemicals,” said Samuel A. Fresina, President of New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association, Inc. “Fire fighters show higher rates of certain types of cancers than the general U.S. population, some of which are linked to toxic PFAS. I applaud the Legislature for taking this action to protect the hardworking heroes in our state from cancer-causing chemicals.”


Rich Schrader, New York Political Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said: “Dangerous chemicals have no place in the tools used by our brave men and women in uniform. This critical bill will help keep firefighters and the communities they serve safe by prohibiting toxins like PFAS in training resources once and for all. This is a victory for all New Yorkers and for those who put their lives on the line every day.”


“New York communities need to be sure their drinking water is safe, and this legislation takes a necessary step in that direction,” said Suzanne Novak, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice. “Phasing out toxic PFAS-containing firefighting foams in favor of PFAS-free firefighting foams that are already available and proven to be effective will help protect New Yorkers from the serious health risks associated with PFAS exposure.”


Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for the New York Public Interest Research Group said, “Unless and until a chemical can be proven safe, it shouldn't be used. PFAS-containing firefighting foam has contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans across the country, including in New York. This legislation will help reduce New Yorkers’ exposure to toxic Teflon chemicals and protect both public health and the health of our fire fighters.”


The bill passed, after midnight, following a series of unanticipated delays. The first vote was not valid because the Senate bill was not listed. When conducting the vote a second time, there were problems with the electronic voting system. The third time, the bill finally passed, adding New York to the list of states taking action on the issue. Washington, Colorado, and Minnesota have already enacted similar laws.

The measure was backed by the JustGreen Partnership, a collaboration over 50 groups representing over a million New Yorkers working for environmental health and justice for New York's people and communities.

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