Legislature(2019 - 2020)BARNES 124
02/28/2020 03:15 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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HB 84-WORKERS' COMP: POLICE, FIRE, EMT, PARAMED 3:31:03 PM CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 84, "An Act relating to the presumption of compensability for a disability resulting from certain diseases for firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and peace officers." 3:31:14 PM REPRESENTATIVE ANDY JOSEPHSON, Alaska State Legislature, provided a brief review of HB 84, as prime sponsor. He said providing coverage in the event of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals is a top priority for state law enforcement. That exposure, he noted, causes cancer within the limited window that currently exists in Title 23. Additionally, the bill clarifies language in the Adamson v. the State of Alaska. Furthermore, HB 24 clarifies that all state firefighters are covered. CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ asked Representative Josephson to repeat his last sentence. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON provided a scenario in which a firefighter at the University of Alaska Fairbanks gets a respiratory problem from a fire he put out. He explained that under HB 84, he would not have a presumption that the respiratory problem he suffered was related to that fire. CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ sought clarification as to who is included in the bill. 3:34:03 PM ELISE SORUM-BIRK, Staff, Representative Andy Josephson, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Josephson, prime sponsor, explained that employees of the state who are firefighters or peace officers will be covered. 3:34:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE HANNAN questioned whether the definition of a peace officer includes tribal police and Village Public Safety Officers (VPSOs). MS. SORUM-BIRK noted that there are two definitions of "peace officer" in Alaska statute, adding that HB 84 uses the broader definition. She answered yes, it would include those categories. 3:35:36 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON addressed a question from the previous bill hearing. He said the current benefit from 2008 is rarely needed and that approximately one cancer claim and four respiratory claims are filed per year. He stated that this should not inflate municipal or state workers' compensation insurance premiums. 3:37:13 PM MS. SORUM-BIRK deferred questions regarding the correlation between female firefighters and breast cancer to Ms. Throwbridge. 3:39:17 PM JESSICA THROWBRIDGE informed that committee that she has been studying the health impact of exposure to toxic chemicals for the past nine years. She added that for the past six years she has specifically focused on the cohort of women firefighters. CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ asked for a high-level summary of her findings. MS. THROWBRIDGE explained that she is studying exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) that could be occupationally related. The study found that women firefighters had higher levels of three different compounds compared to nonfirefighters by a statistically significant amount. She noted that everyone in the study was exposed to multiple different compounds. Other research has documented high exposure among firefighters in general to chemicals like PAHs, arsenic, formaldehyde, and benzene. CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ pointed out that in Alaska, there is a problem with PFAS water contamination as a result of using it in firefighting foams. She asked for a description of what exposure for firefighters or other emergency personnel might look like. MS. THROWBRIDGE agreed that PFAS water contamination is a big problem. She said in California they don't have the same levels of PFAS in drinking water, which enabled them to exclude that as a potential source in their study. She explained that common exposure among firefighters includes aqueous [film forming] foam (AFFF), which fire fighters frequently use. PFAS is also suspected to be in the water-resistant and flame-retardant gear that firefighters wear. Furthermore, the study found that firefighters' job positions might be associated with PFAS levels, in that those fighting the fires directly have higher levels than those who drive the truck or provide backup. CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ asked what that means in terms of an increase in cancer rate or causality. MS. THROWBRIDGE said that's a tough question to answer because their study is specifically focused on exposure and doesn't follow the participants over time to look at cancer rates for several reasons. First, most fire departments don't have enough women to determine a statistically significant association even if it exists. Second, looking at cancer outcomes can hinder prevention efforts because it requires waiting until cancer cases appear. Nonetheless, she stated that there is a lot of evidence both in animal and human studies to show that PFAS is associated with breast cancer. 3:44:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE HANNAN asked for Ms. Throwbridge's speculative hypothesis on the time of exposure before the onset of cancer. MS. THROWBRIDGE asked if Representative Hannan's question is referring to PFAS specifically. REPRESENTATIVE HANNAN said that although she has a personal interest in the PFAS element, HB 84 considers all kinds of carcinogenic exposure. MS. THROWBRIDGE explained that the biology is very complicated, and it would be challenging to establish a timeframe between exposure and outcome - primarily because there isn't just one exposure and the biology behind exposure isn't necessarily straightforward. Furthermore, she pointed out that there are other exposures beyond occupational, as firefighters have lives outside of the firehouse. Nonetheless, presumption laws from different places have cited five years for breast cancer, she said. 3:47:16 PM CHAIR SPOHNHOLZ opened public testimony. After ascertaining that no one wished to testify, she closed public testimony. She announced that HB 84 was held over.