Federal Bill May Offer NJ Firefighters Cancer Detection Tests Following PFAS Exposure
Firefighters endanger their lives to protect the lives of citizens daily, so when these entrusted public servants are dealt cancer-causing equipment, it is a disgraceful disservice to their heroism. Unfortunately, firefighters across the country have been forced to utilize equipment that was supposed to protect them but was instead laden with cancer-causing PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl, chemicals.
PFAS is a primary component of the moisture barrier in all bunker gear. It unnecessarily exposes firefighters to chemicals and leads to numerous health problems, such as kidney and testicular cancers. Known as forever chemicals for their prevalence and longevity, PFAS chemicals also cause health problems such as thyroid disease, kidney disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Recently, a number of bills have been making their way through the New Jersey legislature to address these health concerns. A law passed late last year mandates periodic cancer screenings for professional firefighters not enrolled in the State Health Benefits Plan. It expands access to cancer screenings for firefighters with a different health care plan than the SHBP through their public employer.
With no out-of-pocket cost to the firefighter, the program will pay the provider directly, eliminating the need to reimburse the firefighter for such expenses. Bills aimed at reducing the prevalence of PFAS by establishing requirements, prohibitions, and programs for their regulation are also making their way through the New Jersey Legislature.
Federal legislation to enact similar protections seems promising. The bipartisan FIRE Cancer Act making its way through Congress would provide federal investments to firefighters across America to access multi-cancer early detection tests and other preventative tests at no out-of-pocket cost.
Early testing provides firefighters with a resource to catch one of their industry’s leading causes of death earlier. However, it does not alleviate the burden that PFAS chemicals have placed on the lives of firefighters and their families nationwide.
Below, the New York personal injury lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. discuss the bills and what to do if you believe you or a loved one has been exposed to PFAS while working as a firefighter.
The Prevalence of PFAS Chemicals
PFAS are manufactured chemicals created almost 100 years ago to repel water, oil, and grease. They are resistant to heat and chemical reactions and are the main component in the moisture barrier in firefighter turnout gear.
Activists and business leaders testified to the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee earlier this month about the implications of measures to address the prevalence of PFAS. According to an article in the New Jersey Monitor, environmental groups praised limiting the forever chemicals, while business groups expressed concerns that the restrictions would be difficult and costly.
The New Jersey bill to limit PFAS prevalence was introduced in October but has yet to go up for a vote in either chamber of the Legislature. If approved, it would seek to limit the prevalence of PFAS by restricting the production of new goods with PFAS and requiring the makers of products that contain PFAS to disclose it to the public. It would also appropriate $5 million to the Department of Environmental Protection for PFAS-related research.
Manufacturing giant 3M recently settled a lawsuit for an amount that could be up to $12 billion
with U.S. cities and towns over claims that the company contaminated drinking water with
PFAS. It has conceded its risk and agreed to phase PFAS out of all 3M products by 2025.
What Should I Do If I’m a Firefighter and Believe I’ve Been Exposed to PFAS?
Long-term exposure to PFAS in firefighter equipment, such as PPE and firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals, can lead to severe injuries.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that humans affected by PFAS exposure have shown adverse health effects, including:
- Increased risk of cancer
- Developmental and behavioral effects on infants and children
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Reduced chances of pregnancy
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer following a career as a firefighter, it’s important to seek out legal advice from a qualified attorney familiar with the dangers of PFAS chemicals.
Our New York and New Jersey attorneys at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. have proudly served as General Counsel to the Uniformed Firefighters Association for over 40 years. Over that time, we have represented firefighters injured on and off duty. Most recently, the IAFF selected SPBMCC to be a part of the PFAS Law Firms, a group of independent toxic tort firms, to fight for those made sick by PFAS exposure at work and represent individual firefighters in their potential lawsuits.
We stay up-to-date on local laws and regulations to serve victims best. If you or a loved one experienced severe injury or death because of PFAS, please contact our team of attorneys by calling (212) 732-9000.