New legislation aims to protect firefighters from toxic chemicals

NOW: New legislation aims to protect firefighters from toxic chemicals

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- A new Indiana House bill passed unanimously Wednesday, heading to the senate. It would create a pilot program to monitor the levels of toxic chemicals in 1,000 Indiana firefighters, possibly expanding if successful.

This falls on the heels of a tragic loss in the South Bend Fire Department (SBFD).

Mike Brown died from esophageal cancer on Feb. 9 after retiring from (SBFD) just last month.

"He spent all that time and effort serving his community, in hopes of a nice retirement, and doesn't get that," said South Bend Firefighters IAFF Local 362 Vice President Eric Griffin. "Mike's just another example of the firefighters that we've had on our department that have met the same fate."

Brown's tragic, untimely passing highlights the risks firefighters take in the line of duty.

"For a long time, we've recognized the fact that the firefighters are getting sick with illnesses that we're either too young for, or cancers that are extremely rare and aggressive, and nobody really understood why," Griffin said.

For decades, firefighters have been exposed to forever chemicals, known as PFAS, in their gear and in AFFF foam, used to extinguish some fires.

PFAS particles are toxic and are linked to cancer and other diseases.

"We kind of assumed that it was because of the job, but there wasn't really any scientific backing behind it," Griffin said.

State Representative Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend) authored her first house bill to do something about these risks.

"Now, we are only beginning to look at the human health impact and in particular, those individuals who are exposed to these chemicals through their profession," Bauer said.

House Bill 1219 would create a PFAS biomonitoring pilot program, forging the way for firefighters to better understand their exposure to PFAS, and their risk of getting sick.

"I'm a firm believer in protecting individuals while they're at work, and creating safe workspaces and safe environments, and our local firefighter departments want the same thing," Bauer said.

The bill passed the house in a 93-0 vote, showing its bipartisan support, and now sits in the senate.

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