MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A fight waged in Minnesota to better protect firefighters from dangerous chemicals moves to Washington this week.
Gov. Tim Walz has signed into law a bill banning some flame-retardant chemicals common in household products. WCCO looked into what the changes here could mean for the next generation of firefighters across the country.
From washing their gear to washing themselves within an hour of getting back from a fire, routines have changed at St. Paul’s station 14 in the last few years after battling an invisible threat.
“We’re putting it in the machine – it only takes about 40 minutes,” said Chris Parsons, St. Paul Fire Captain and president of the Minnesota Professional Firefighters. “We’re doing a better job of protecting ourselves and that’s statewide.”
Flame retardants in everything from carpet to furniture were once billed as a way to slow the spread of a fire. Further studies have shown they release toxins with alarming consequences.
For every five-degree rise in room temperature, skin absorption rate increases 400%. Now, 60% of all line-of-duty deaths in firefighters are connected to cancer. In 2015, Minnesota lawmakers passed a landmark bill to ban four flame retardants in furniture and children’s products. This session, that list extended into an entire class of the chemicals.
“It is considered a big win,” Parsons said.
Parsons will take that work to Washington Thursday, where he’ll testify in front of a congressional committee in hopes of changing national standards.
“The firefighter family is a second family for any firefighter,” he said.
Parsons says finding safer alternatives will protect future firefighters – a transformation already noticeable in the air at many stations across Minnesota.
“You just don’t have that smell in the station. You can tell it’s a healthier workplace for us,” Parsons said.
Minnesota’s law goes into effect in 2021 and will also cover mattresses in addition to furniture and children’s products.