PRESS RELEASE

Removal of Toxic PFAS from Firefighter Gear Blocked  

Tags: ,

For Immediate Release: Monday, September 13, 2021
Contact:  Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Removal of Toxic PFAS from Firefighter Gear Blocked

High Levels of Forever Chemicals Infused in Protective Turnout Gear

Washington, DC — An industry-dominated standards setting body has rejected efforts to remove cancer-causing chemicals from firefighters’ protective gear, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The same dangerous chemicals found in firefighting foam (PFAS or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are also in the turnout gear firefighters wear to combat blazes.

Currently, high levels of PFAS in the material of their gear put firefighters into direct contact with chemicals that may be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled. PFAS are chemicals that do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in the human body. PFAS are associated with damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as heightened risk of testicular and kidney cancer, leading causes of firefighter mortality.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develops codes and standards for firefighter turnout gear (among other things).  The current NFPA Standards are written in a fashion that ensures all turnout gear must contain PFAS.

Roughly half of the voting members on the NFPA committees developing these standards are industry consultants, or PFAS and/or turnout gear manufacturers. The issue has been pushed by firefighters, some of whom themselves are cancer victims.

In a vote announced late on Friday, September 10, 2021, The NFPA Standards Council voted down an appeal by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) seeking to remove PFAS requirements.

“This unholy alliance between manufacturers and the NFPA only feeds the firefighter cancer crisis,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse.  “Firefighters already face enough dangers without having to worry about the chemicals infused in their protective gear.”

Turnout gear refers to trousers, boots, and jackets, or to the entire combination of personal protective equipment and personal protective clothing.  Recent studies show –

  • Widespread presence of PFAS in gear and protective equipment.  One recent study found every set of turnout gear tested, whether new, old, used, or unused, contained high levels of PFAS;
  • Every firefighter wearing turnout gear that meets current standards is exposed to these chemicals every time they touch or wear their gear; and
  • PFAS shed from turnout gear is found in fire station dust, presenting an inhalation hazard.

“For the same reason health officials are warning firefighters to limit direct contact with foam, there is a serious health concern about firefighters’ direct contact with PFAS in their gear,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental protection Agency. “Cancers of the kinds associated with PFAS are the leading causes of firefighter line of duty loss of life.”

The fight now shifts to courtrooms where personal liability suits are progressing, and to statehouses and Congress where bills to ban PFAS from firefighting foam and gear are advancing.

 

###
 
Read the NFPA decision 

Look at fight over PFAS in turnout gear

See manufacturer members of NFPA Standards Council 

View FEMA warnings about PFAS in firefighting foam