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Calif. legislators back bill banning PFAS from firefighting gear

Assembly Bill 2408 heads to the Senate for approval

By Cameron Macdonald
The Marin Independent Journal

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. — The state Assembly has unanimously passed a bill that proposes a ban on the manufacturing, sale and distribution of firefighter gear that contains a group of chemicals known as PFAS.

Assembly Bill 2408 will undergo Senate review for approval this summer.

The bill’s author, Matt Haney, led a rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday to promote AB 2408. A large gathering of firefighter union members joined him. California Professional Firefighters, which represents 35,000 firefighters, is sponsoring the bill. If it becomes law, violators would be subjected to fines up to $10,000.

Haney, a San Francisco Democrat, said that 66% of firefighter deaths over the last 20 years were due to cancer.

“It used to be that heart disease was the biggest killer of firefighters, now it is cancer,” he said at the rally, which was recorded and posted on social media. “We found out that the reason for that is we have cancer-causing chemicals that are in their gear.”

Assemblymember Damon Connolly, who represents Marin County, expressed this support for AB 2408 on Thursday.

“It is imperative that our firefighters, who already face immense physical dangers in their line of duty, are not exposed to dangerous chemicals,” he said. “I am thankful to my colleague from San Francisco for his work to ensure that the personal protective equipment used by firefighters are not creating preventable health risks.”

PFAS — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are long-lasting chemicals that have been used in numerous products and industrial applications for seven decades, according to AB 2408’s legislative analysis. A type of PFAS is used to treat firefighters’ turnout gear in order to make it oil and water-resistant. The bill cited a study that found that firefighters can be exposed to PFAS shed from their gear.

Proponents believe this ban would help reduce cancer cases for firefighters. If signed into law, the bill will go into effect on July 1, 2026.

Ross Valley Fire Capt. Rick Addicks, a 22-year veteran who died at 55 in April, is the latest local firefighter to die from occupational disease, according to fire officials.

Addicks, who died from esophageal cancer, wore personal protective equipment that contained chemicals that the International Association of Firefighters has linked to a higher risk of cancer.

How firefighters can protect themselves from PFAS:
Learn how you can limit your exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl, also known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals”

“Our dear friend and brother Capt. Rick Addicks spent 22 years of his life donning his PPE embedded with these chemicals, only learning of the harm they can cause in the final few years of his life, and at that point, it was too late,” said Sid Jamotte, the health and safety chair of Marin Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1775.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved a ban on PFAS-embedded firefighter gear as well as a plan to have the city’s fire department supply PFAS-free protective equipment to its staff by June 2026.

Tony Stefani, a retired San Francisco fire captain and founder of the San Francisco Cancer Prevention Foundation, joined Haney’s rally and said that he had to retire from firefighting due to kidney cancer.

“We are tired of going to funerals on a monthly basis of another active or retired firefighter that has passed away,” he said.

San Rafael fire Chief Abraham Roman expressed his support for AB 2408 and said it is a significant step to reducing firefighters’ exposure to toxic chemicals.

“Having served in the fire service for 38 years, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of cancer on many of my fellow firefighters,” he wrote in an email. “While firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation, the link between firefighting and increased cancer risk is well-documented, and addressing the contributing factors is crucial for the health and safety of our personnel.”

John Bagala, president of Local 1775 and a supporter of the bill, recalled when he and other firefighters saw a rise in firefighter cancer cases.

“For years, we were scratching our heads, trying to figure out what we were missing here,” he said. “Lo and behold, it was the actual turnout gear provided to us.”

Bagala described situations where firefighters wear PFAS-contaminated gear while also experiencing high stress and heat conditions so their skin pores are exposed to PFAS.

He noted that one manufacturer is testing turnout gear that’s free of that chemical but he foresees a challenge ahead in phasing out PFAS gear for hundreds of thousands of firefighters across North America. Bagala estimated that the process could take years.

“The truth is our firefighters will be forced to wear existing, unhealthy gear, realistically my guess, for the next five to 10 years before we’re able to phase them all out,” he said.

Jamotte said that AB 2408 is one of many layers to reducing firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, but he also stressed that firefighters should also have annual health assessments to detect cancer in the early stages. He said that only four out of Marin County’s nine fire departments have designated funding for health assessments.

“Every fire department in Marin can afford to provide the necessary assessments that their firefighters deserve,” Jamotte said.

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