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House, governor should act quickly on firefighting bill

The state Senate passed an important piece of legislation this week.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, restricts certain hazardous substances from being included in the suppressing foam fire departments use. The substances in question, per- and polyfluoroaklyl substances or PFAS, have been connected to adverse human health effects, according to a report in Friday’s Sun-Gazette.

The substances also display remarkable persistence, as they don’t break down chemically and instead accumulate or build up over time.

The risks posed by these substances, which have been used in a variety of goods since the ’40s, is significant enough that states across the nation, from Virginia and Kentucky to Colorado and Washington, have already banned their use in fire-suppressing foam.

The legislation also tasks the state Emergency Management Agency with determining the best alternatives for fire companies to use.

“Firefighters can face an extremely higher level of PFAS exposure compared to other emergency responders,” Yaw told the Sun-Gazette recently. “PFAS contamination is a national public health challenge, and this bill is a commonsense response, which has already been adopted by many states. This bill will undoubtedly protect firefighters moving forward, while also safeguarding our ground and surface water from contamination.”

At a time when our volunteer fire departments struggle to recruit enough firefighters, it is important that the state signal that the health of firefighters is a priority. As the shortage of firefighters places additional stress and burden on our neighbors willing to make the sacrifices and bear the risks to keep our communities safe, it also is important for the state to alleviate the additional stress of worrying that such community service may jeopardize their health.

This bill signals that the health of firefighters is a priority, and alleviates firefighters’ valid concerns about the impact on their health.

The House should move quickly to pass the bill, Gov. Tom Wolf should move quickly to sign it, and we all should appreciate Yaw’s efforts to protect our firefighters from potential long-term ailments connected to these substances.

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