By RANDALL CHASE Associated Press
DOVER, Del. (AP) — The Delaware Senate has passed a bill that purports to restrict the use of firefighting foam containing certain chemical compounds associated with cancer and other health problems while allowing continued use of the foam to fight fires.
The legislation approved Tuesday prohibits the discharge of firefighting foam containing added fluorinated organic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — except for fighting fires, fire prevention operations, and testing and training.
“What is left?” Sen. Stephanie Hansen, one of two lawmakers to oppose the bill, wondered after the vote.
Supporters of the bill noted that, while it allows continued use of “Class B” foams in firefighting operations, it prohibits training or testing with the foams – which are particularly effective for fighting flammable liquid fires involving gasoline, jet fuel and oil — unless those activities occur at a facility that has implemented containment, treatment and disposal measures. It does not define or establish any standards for those measures, however.
“I think that’s up to the regulatory understanding by the agency that’s going to be overseeing the regulations,” said Shawn Swearingen, director of the Alliance for Telomer Chemistry Stewardship. The alliance is associated with the American Chemistry Council and has been involved in legislative efforts in other states addressing the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS.
Swearingen was called by chief bill sponsor Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, to testify about the legislation, which is supported by the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, a politically powerful interest group.
PFAS, which have been linked to a wide range of health ailments including kidney and testicular cancers, changes in liver, thyroid and immune system functions, and developmental problems, are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment. They have contaminated groundwater in and around military bases and other aviation facilities around the country, including Dover Air Force Base and the New Castle County Airport.
But the legislation explicitly states that it is not meant to restrict the manufacture, sale, or distribution of class B firefighting foam with added PFAS, or use of such foam in emergency firefighting operations.
Shortly before Tuesday’s vote, Ennis introduced an amendment adding a preamble to spell out the intent of the legislation The preamble states that fluorinated organic chemicals represent “an emerging challenge with much yet to be learned about their negative effect on public health and the environment.” It describes the bill as “an initial step” toward reducing the use of PFAS in firefighting, while encouraging the use of foams with alternative chemical formulations, despite their additional cost and decreased effectiveness.
Ennis, a life member and former chief and president of a volunteer fire company in Smyrna, told fellow lawmakers that the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control supports the bill, but that it agrees that more work needs to be done.
“There’s concerns, but this is just a first step,” he said.
Hansen, chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, noted that the federal government and many states are beginning to restrict the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS, including for training and testing, and that she was concerned that Delaware appeared to be moving in the opposite direction.
The measure now goes to the House for consideration.
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