by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Good afternoon Senator Jackson, Representative Tuttle and members of the Labor Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville, and I’m the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 12,000 members and supporters and promote science-based, solutions-oriented policy on a variety of issues including energy, land conservation, protecting public health and preventing toxic pollution.
We strongly support LD 621, and we thank Senator Bartlett for bringing this issue to the attention of the committee.
As many of you know, Maine has been a national leader in reducing the use of, and exposure to unnecessary, dangerous chemicals. Many of you have voted in support of our mercury laws, our arsenic law, our e-waste law, the ban on dangerous brominated flame retardants and our safer chemicals law. These laws have helped to move hazardous substances out of the marketplace when cost-effective, safer alternatives have rendered the use of the toxic substance unnecessary.
Many of these toxic chemicals in question are in our products in our homes. These chemicals become even more dangerous when they catch on fire, where they can volatilize and expose fire victims and fire fighters to a potent blend on noxious gasses and particulate matter. Obviously, there are short-term effects to breathing toxic smoke, and the symptoms associated can pass relatively quickly. What is far more insidious are the long term effects from inhaling chemical-laden smoke and ingesting or absorbing the associated particulate matter, especially when one is chronically exposed, the plight of firefighters in Maine and around the world.
The amount of carcinogens that the average firefighter is exposed to on a routine basis is staggering – benzene, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride gas, an unbelievable amount of chemical-laden soot, and on and on. Two years ago, Speaker Pingree led an initiative to remove one of those toxic compounds, the dangerous flame retardant known as deca. Ironically, while deca is supposed to help prevent fires, once a fire has started, the chemical transforms into brominated dioxins and furans, some of the most hazardous and carcinogenic compounds known to man. With clear, safer alternatives that met the same fire safety standards for TVs, furniture and mattresses, phasing out deca was a no-brainer and Maine firefighters can now breathe a little easier knowing that it’s on its way out.
However, deca is just one chemical and there are hundreds more that harm firefighters every single day. Proper safety equipment will help reduce exposure, but will certainly not be able to prevent the myriad of toxic compounds from entering firefighters’ bodies.
And while it is important to continue to phase out toxic chemicals when safer alternatives become available, it is also important to work to protect and care for vulnerable populations. To think that Maine firefighters risk their lives day in and day out, saving lives, protecting personal property and keeping communities safe, and that we would not take care of them when they contract cancer, even though their cancer has been proven to strongly correlate from occupational exposure to toxic chemicals. This is a disservice to our hardworking public servants.
With the sheer evidence demonstrating that firefighters have much higher incidences of cancer due to occupational exposure to toxic chemicals, and the fact that 27 other states have already done what you’re being asked to do in this bill, this one seems like another no-brainer.
We strongly urge you to support it.
Thank you for your consideration, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.