EWG, IAFF, and Congressman Jim McGovern Host Capitol Hill Screening of ‘Burned ~ Protecting the Protectors

Diane Cotter
11 min readMar 25, 2024

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Briefing Announcement:

Overexposed: The PFAS Epidemic Among Firefighters

By Invitation ~ Capitol Hill Visitor Center, January 10th, 2024 5pm

Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) invite you to a discussion with experts on firefighter exposure to toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS and the associated health risks.

The briefing will also include a screening of the documentary, “Burned: Protecting the Protectors” in honor of January ~ Firefighter Cancer Awareness month.

Whenever we go to DC there’s never enough time to take in the magnitude of the city. The historical importance of the work being done in this magnificent place in one tiny corner of the world, let alone the breathtaking beauty of the buildings and the energy they hold.

We were meeting our team; Kathy Crosby-Bell founder of Last Call Foundation, and Jason Burns, Last Call executive director. Kathy brought the entire board-of-directors with her and they were seated behind us for this historic event. Kathy continues to search for ways to raise funds, and awareness on this issue.

https://www.lastcallfoundation.org/

Our guests included; Miranda Spivack, author of the upcoming book, States’ Secrets ~ following the lives of 6 activists, (two from the PFAS genre), as well as Stacy Huston, podcast host, keynote speaker,and Executive Director of SixDegrees.org ~ Las Vegas Fire Captain Richard Birt (Ret.) bringing international attention to firefighter issues, Karim Damji, Chief Product Officer of Diagnose Early, and Stephanie White, respected firefighter, podcast host and Fire Engineering alum.

Our event took place in the North Orientation Theatre aside the model cast of the Statue of Freedom. The theatre is in a grand room of wooden panels with cascading seating rising from the speaker floor stage raising up to the heights of the back wall. Thick cushioned dark colored seats made for a comfortable event. The floor area held the podium, and the Q&A panel table, set in front of the theatre sized screen.

A large contingent of IAFF officers and officials filled the theatre along with members of Congress and the Senate, firefighters; active and retired, media, legislative aides and the curious who found their way.

At 5pm our moderator, EWG’s Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs approached the podium with a warm welcome to all the dignitaries and attendants along with a briefing on why we were all togehter this day.

EWG has been a constant resource for this activist, an educational body with tools and platforms to host firefighters and allies at the table with the collaborations necessary to move the needle on firefighter PFAS exposure awaness ~ and in solidarity with labor as was evident in EWG’s 2021 Inaugural PFAS Conference:

Scott congratulated our filmmaker, Elijah Yetter-Bowman, and Ethereal Films for the National Academy of Sciences, ‘Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communication’ for Burned~ Protecting the Protectors. Elijah and their team received in Washington, D.C. on Friday, January 12th at a private event.

Guests of Honor

Scott introduced Congressman James McGovern (MA) giving praise to his many bi-partisan efforts on PFAS and Rep McGovern’s tireless work on Capitol Hill for numerous environmental concerns.

Congressman McGovern spoke on his bipartisan work and championed the passage of pending legislation to protect firefighters and the communities impacted by PFAS.

He spoke on past and pending legislation he has written — requiring stopping the chemicals at the source and requiring the EPA to list PFAS as a ‘hazardous substance’.

He spoke of his years working with firefighters who have always been first to answer the call, and when learning of their exposure to PFAS, he was driven to co-found the Bi-Partisan Congressional PFAS Task Force.

Rep McGovern praised IAFF President Ed Kelly and the IAFF for their outstanding work on this issue and firefighter cancer ~ Connecting with firefighters via multiple organizations and lobbying with state and federal government daily.

He reminded us the work is hard, and neither the science nor the legislature doesn’t often happen as quickly as we’d like. He spoke of reminding this activist that the science would take a long time, and that ‘she wouldn’t wait so she orchestrated a study..’ to a few giggles in the crowd.

Scott announced Senator Shaheen (NH) as a leader in her years of work for first responders and her constituents PFAS exposures; highlighting her work as Chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee in which she successfully commissioned funding for the multi year NIST Study on firefighter turnout gear, which recently produced its’ first release:

Senator recognized NH firefighter Mark Ouellette who has long championed her work in New Hampshire. Senator praised the work of activists in New Hampshire to lobby for the remediation of multi-site PFAS contamination, who contribute to the population with their reach into legislation, seeking PFAS health studies, medical monitoring and to complete the circle of legislation to ‘hold polluters accountable’.

Congressman Dan Kildee (MI) told the audience that firefighters were very special to him, as he came from a family of firefighters. His grandfather and uncle were firefighters. (And, his district manager Jake Bennett is also a firefighter!)

He spoke of Michigan having so much PFAS… “because we look for it”.

Following Michigan closely all these years it is impossible to convey how hard this Congressman and his teams have worked on this issue.

I recalled the first (2018)map I saw of 1,487 fire houses in Michigan that were all labeled a ‘potential PFAS concern’.

He spoke of the work of the PFAS Task Force he founded with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, and the need for the Task Force to be a bi-partisan effort and for the work to continue.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?457332-3/representatives-dan-kildee-brian-fitzpatrick-task-force-clean-drinking-water

Scott lauded Congresswoman Debbie Dingle (MI) for her nonstop work in the PFAS arena and being a great friend of the firefighters and of her work to set deadlines for the government to take action to address PFAS; drinking water standards, she’s led efforts for the government to set limits on how much PFAS can be discharged into the environment, led efforts to get PFAS out of the everyday products we bring into our homes, and now she leads the effort to ban PFAS in firefighting foam (AFFF) whether it’s DoD installations or civilian airports.

Rep Dingle thanked the organizers and IAFF General President Edward Kelly after speaking to him on New Years' day when she saw him on MSN sharing the details of PFAS in firefighter turnout gear. .

She spoke of her long affection with firefighters, how they helped care for her husband John when he was ill, and how they were there for her when he passed. How they cooked for her weekly and how strongly she felt about the work that needed to be passed to protect America’s Bravest. Rep Dingle was passionate about the health and safety of firefighters and the need for gear without PFAS. She spoke on behalf of the push to pass her bill H.R. 4769 PFAS Alternatives Act.

Scott Faber spoke in reverence for Senator Gary Peters (MI), of years of strong work originating in MI spreading nationally, holding the DoD accountable for the deadlines to remediate PFAS now set into law by Congress among countless PFAS actions.

Senator Gary Peters spoke on his body of work to remediate and elevate the PFAS from DoD contamination — from industry, and his work in the Senate to protect the health and safety of firefighters from PFAS. Senator Peters stressed the potential threat of PFAS contamination that may eclipse previous threats.

As I sat in front of Senator Peters, I recalled activist Kristen Mello meeting with his this aide, Yogin Kathari, in 2019 and pushing the issue of PFAS in firefighter turnout gear literally into his hands, telling him, “this is gonna be a very, very big deal”.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) was introduced as a longtime friend of firefighters.

Senator spoke on the bipartisan work of this issue (PFAS), and that when she travels the country she is still shocked to find out how much PFAS pollution there is — either from manufacturing or AFFF on military bases. She spoke of her state, New York, and the pervasive pollution upstate/downstate, western New York, North country, and her home area due to Saint Gobain. She’s been to all military bases across the state of New York that AFFF was used. Senator praised firefighters for their work as they are using the products every day, and knew it was in the rigs, clothing, and spoke of the work still needed. She spoke of the mandatory cleanup work now being done by DoD and the efforts that took in Congress that has made a difference in communities for safe water. She spoke to the need to get the fire community protected and the work done in AFFF, she spoke to the 2022 NDAA to phase out the use of PFAS in the military and that last year she partnered with Congressman Kildee to introduce the PFAS Firefighter Protection Act, the state-of-the-art bill that needs to get done regarding AFFF.

Question and Answer Panel

IAFF General President Edward A. Kelly

President Kelly spoke on the statistics of firefighter cancer, the more aggressive cancers at younger ages of firefighters, of the need for medical monitoring, health studies, early detection, partnerships with American Cancer Society and more. President Kelly stressed that firefighter cancer has passed heart disease as the number one killer of firefighters.

President Kelly told the audience he would never forget the impact of the call he took while on duty at his Boston firehouse from Last Call Foundation founder, Kathy Crosby-Bell, when Kathy told him of Dr. Peaslee’s findings of his June 2020 study.

The work of the IAFF on PFAS has grown exponentially under GP Kelly from taking on the industry, the NFPA, and building a network of law firms and scientists to educate and elevate the needs of the members.

President Kelly stressed the most important act to protect his members right now is for Congresswoman Debbie Dingle’s bill to pass.

Jason Burns ~ PFFM District 8 VP and Executive Director, Last Call Foundation Honoring Firefighter Michael Kennedy

Jason has become a leading authority on this issue. Losing two very young firefighters to cancer during his initial months as IAFF Local 1314 president and standing in the trenches with this activist during heated times. Jason has learned the science, and is a passionate activist for the subject.

Jason spoke on the need for state and federal legislation that protects firefighters, the need for education, and particularly the need for education and studies on reproductive health of firefighters. Jason advised the audience that we are still learning of the harms of PFAS as an endocrine disruptor to the firefighter community. Jason reminded us that he is from a environmental justice community and PFAS free gear may not be a priority . Jason asked that we focus on passing Congresswoman Debbie Dingle’s bill to get firefighters the PFAS free gear they need.

Elijah Yetter-Bowman, Executive Producer, ‘Burned-Protecting the Protectors’

Elijah spoke on their connection to PFAS during their upbringing in North Carolina where the community is greatly impacted by adverse health effects from the polluted rivers used by Chemours and DuPont.

Elijah spoke on the need for the efforts of storytellers, legislators, scientists and activists to align in order to combat the efforts of industry with unlimited funding. Elijah spoke to the needs of health studies and the work of NASEM to continue to spotlight the needs of impacted communities. Elijah advised that their work continues on the larger project ‘Gen-X a Chemical Cocktail’

… and ~ that their team found the issue of firefighter PFAS exposure so compelling that ‘Burned’ was sectioned from the larger project to immediately bring the story to firefighters.

Diane Cotter, Wife of Lt. Paul Cotter (ret), Activist

Scott Faber asked, “what would justice look like to you, Diane?”

My response: “Justice would be for my husband to be back on his truck but that’s never gonna happen. Justice would be for the widows to have their husbands and wives back and that’s never gonna happen. Justice would be now if you did what Senator Mike Moore is looking to do in Massachusetts ~ that is to sue the turnout manufacturers who use deceptive acts to sell their products and hid within the institution the NFPA. I added that in North America fighter turnout gear market is a $2 billion a year industry, and that the projection is an increase of 5% due in part to the legislation coming into effect now that lawmakers have written to replace turn out gear with PFAS free sets once they become available…

Roll Burned ~ https://etherealfilms.org/burned/

FOLLOW ETHEREAL FILMS on YOUTUBE For the PUBLIC RELEASE OF BURNED 2024 !!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myh8vpFZK5k

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Diane Cotter

A very private individual who fell into a very public rabbit hole of epic proportions. I call it the #greatestdeceptionever - really, EVER.