New Bedford and Fall River firefighters are applauding a decision by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to file a lawsuit against 13 chemical companies that manufacture ubiquitous "forever" chemicals commonly found in firefighting foams.

Healey alleges the chemical makers have caused "millions of dollars in damages to communities across Massachusetts by knowingly contaminating drinking water sources, groundwater and other natural resources with highly toxic PFAS chemicals that pose a serious threat to public health and the environment."

Taylor Cormier/Townsquare Media
Taylor Cormier/Townsquare Media

Healey said her suit "also names two companies that shielded assets that should be available to remedy the damages caused by PFAS contamination.

"For decades, these manufacturers knew about the serious risks highly toxic PFAS chemicals pose to public health, the environment, and our drinking water-yet they did nothing about it," she said.

At least 10 other sates have already filed suit against the chemical makers.

Professional FireFighters of Massachusetts Facebook Photo
Professional FireFighters of Massachusetts Facebook Photo

Rich MacKinnon, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), told a news conference on Wednesday, "We value our partnership with the AG in our ongoing battle against occupational cancer that plagues the firefighter profession." MacKinnon said "exposure to these forever chemicals has been linked to many forms of cancer."

Billy Sylvia, President of the New Bedford Firefighters Local 841, praised the lawsuit.

"Our state union and international have been fighting and pushing over the years to have PFAS removed from our gear and pass laws preventing it," he said. "PFAS has literally been killing our members."

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"We've had numerous members over the years including now, that have been diagnosed with different cancers that may be caused by the chemicals," he added.

Sylvia said Healey's involvement could help.

"Having a state official and AG involved carries weight and hopefully would bring others into the fight," he said.

Fall River Fire Dept. via Facebook
Fall River Fire Dept. via Facebook

Jason Burns, District 8 Vice President PFFM and former President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1314 Fall River, said Healey's suit deals mainly with the foam.

"My issue is the gear," he said. "Truth be told, I've used the foam four times in my 16-year career, but I put on my gear every call I go to."

"I applaud this move," he said. "Unfortunately, these companies won't change unless they are met with legal challenges." He said he hopes the suit can expand to include what he says is cancer-causing gear.

"Some firefighters are still required to put on their personal protective equipment (PPE) each and every emergency response," he said. "That exposure over the course of a year, five years, or even a 30-year career is immense and cannot be tolerated."

Healey, a Democrat candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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