The United Firefighters Union will campaign throughout the Tasmanian election for the state to end the use of toxic firefighting foam, in line with the rest of Australia.
Tasmania is the only state in the country yet to completely abandon the use of the highly toxic foam, which has been linked to a range of health impacts in firefighters, including cancers, heart disease, decreased fertility, liver damage, and birth defects.
“Despite a global recognition of the serious and ongoing health impacts from exposure to PFAS, Tasmania’s professional firefighters are still exposed to this toxic chemical,” said Leigh Hills, Secretary of UFU Tasmania branch.
“Tasmania’s ongoing use and endorsement of PFAS is completely out of step with the rest of the country. This state election professional firefighters will be out in force demanding the chemical is no longer in use.”
PFAS are heat resistant chemicals. It is found in B-class foam Tridol 3-6% which continues to be used in Tasmania. Professional firefighters are exposed to the foam during its use, but also through cross contamination between water and foam tanks during responses.
PFAS is a group of more than 4,500 chemicals, but currently testing can only detect only 39 PFAS variants in human bodies.
The union is calling for a comprehensive testing regime for professional firefighters, as is conducted in other jurisdictions.
“Tasmanian professional firefighters have been left absolutely in the dark when it comes to their exposure levels. Their federal colleagues working at Hobart and Launceston airports are up to their third round of blood testing, because the risk is understood and recognised everywhere but in Tasmania.”
PFAS also poses a serious risk to the Tasmanian community and environment. Testing in 2019 of Melbourne’s fire stations found traces of PFAS chemicals above acceptable residential levels, despite it not being used since 2014.
“This is a really nasty chemical that doesn’t just wash away – it sticks around waterways, soil and in the bodies of those who are exposed,” says Mick Tisbury, Vice-president of UFU’s Victoria branch and international expert on the use and dangers of PFAS. Mr Tisbury appeared before the United National Stockholm Convention in 2019 to get the chemicals banned.
“Our experience in Victoria of blood testing firefighters has consistently found higher than average levels of PFAS. Tasmanian firefighters deserve the same level of investigation into PFAS.”
Mr Hills said Tasmanian firefighters were worried about what long term impact the ongoing exposure might have.
“It would offer huge peace of mind to have regular testing and know that we’re no longer even remotely exposed to it. All other Australian fire services have acted on this, we can’t understand why it’s still in use here.”
Former firefighter and Animal Justice Party candidate for the seat of Lyons Sharon McLay, has joined the union’s push.
“Tasmanian firefighters are sick of feeling like the poor cousin, whose health doesn’t matter,” said Ms McLay.
“I was beyond horrified to learn the Tasmanian Fire Service is the only fire service in the nation still using toxic PFAS foam. Emergency Services Minister Mark Shelton needs to stop kicking the can down the road and get rid of this toxic foam immediately.
“If elected I will make banning PFAS, and ending the serious threat it poses to firefighters and the Tasmanian community my number one priority.”
Sharon McLay 0419 100 587