For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Drive for PFAS-Free Firefighter Gear Hits a Wall
Industry Controls Turnout Gear Standards; Critical Vote Tomorrow
Washington, DC — Industry is pushing back against an effort to remove toxic PFAS chemicals from the turnout gear that firefighters wear, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Protective equipment, known as “turnout gear,” contains high levels of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) — which are being banned from firefighting foam.
The amount of PFAS inside turnout gear puts 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 accumulate in the human body. These chemicals are associated with damage to the liver, and kidneys, as well as a heightened risk of testicular and kidney cancer – leading causes of firefighter mortality.
On July 6, 2021, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Structural and Proximity Fire Fighting Protective Clothing and Equipment voted against an emergency amendment to eliminate the current requirement that ensures the presence of PFAS in firefighter turnout gear. NFPA, which develops codes and standards for firefighter turnout gear (among other things), is heavily dominated by PFAS and/or turnout gear manufacturers.
The NFPA Committee’s narrow rejection was affected by a high level of abstention and will be re-visited with a new vote slated for tomorrow, on Wednesday, July 14th. If the emergency amendment fails again tomorrow, an appeal will result in a final vote this August.
“Cancers of the kinds associated with PFAS are leading causes of firefighter line of duty loss of life,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting that every set of turnout gear in a recent test – whether new, old, used, or unused – contained levels of PFAS in the parts per billion (ppb), when PFAS is regulated at parts per trillion (ppt). “Any reasonable step to lessen the already excessive cancer risks for firefighters should be pursued.”
The PFAS industry and turnout gear manufacturers gave tens of thousands of dollars annually to the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), the firefighter union for the U.S. and Canada. Ironically, these corporations also sponsored the firefighters’ Cancer Summit, without disclosing that their own products contain cancer-causing chemicals. In January, the IAFF voted overwhelmingly to prohibit industry from sponsoring its events.
“The outcome of this vote will reveal whether the industry will even allow firefighters the choice of purchasing PFAS-free gear,” said PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting firefighter protection legislation pending at both the state and federal levels. “If the industry blocks action, the demand for legislative protection will only rise.”
In addition to legislation, PFAS liability suits are sprouting across the country, including the first suit from IAFF members about PFAS in turnout gear.