Global elimination recommended for toxics harmful to firefighters

UN recommendations echo those of Alaska Community Action on Toxics

A United Nations expert committee has recommended global elimination of fluorinated “forever” chemicals, widespread pollutants threatening drinking water sources, public health and the occupational health of firefighters.

The unanimous vote came during an Oct. 4 meeting in Rome, Italy, of IPEN, a global network of public interest non-government organizations that works toward eliminating the production and use of toxic chemicals harmful to human health and the environment.

The chemicals include PFHxS and 147 related substances.

The committee, known as the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPR), includes scientists who are government-designated experts in chemical assessment or management.

The new recommendations come on the heels of a report from Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), in Anchorage, which identifies nearly 30 locations in Alaska where drinking water is contaminated by unregulated substances known to have adverse impacts on human health. A link to that report is online at akaction.org.

Pam Miller, executive director of ACAT, co-chairs IPEN with Tadesse Amera, director of Pesticide Action Nexus, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

PFHxS is a toxic chemical that was used by the fluorine industry as a replacement for two other fluorinated compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Fluorinated substances, also known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are at the center of a current wave of lawsuits since they have been found in high levels in groundwater and drinking water near industrial facilities, airports and military bases.

The chemicals recommended for elimination are found in a variety of products, including firefighting foam, waterproofing of textiles, food packaging, and other industrial and consumer applications. They do not break down in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people.

Prior to the meeting, IPEN released a comprehensive report presenting evidence of the health hazard to firefighters from aqueous film-forming foams used by some fire departments. Earlier IPEN reports describe fluorine-free firefighting foam alternatives that can replace all uses of toxic fluorinated firefighting foams.

IPEN has been actively involved in the POPRC process for 15 years. More information about IPEN is online at ipen.org.