• US Firefighters Launch Legal Campaign for PFAS-Free PPE

Health & Safety

US Firefighters Launch Legal Campaign for PFAS-Free PPE

Feb 24 2023

Recently, the International Association of Firefighters’ (IAFF) General President Edward Kelly spoke at the Affiliate Leadership Training Summit about the Association’s plans to force regulatory change, to make PFAS-free PPE mandatory, and to bolster the claims of IAFF members seeking compensation for PFAS-related illnesses, particularly cancer – the leading cause of death for firefighters. 

“We need to combat what is killing us,” said Kelly. “Cancer is the number one killer of fire fighters, and for years, corporate interests have put profits over our lives. It stops now. This initiative will accelerate our search for PFAS-free gear. If manufacturers or regulatory groups refuse to acknowledge and work to remove these toxic chemicals from the protective gear fire fighters wear, our members have no other viable remedies than to challenge these practices in court. We will take this battle wherever we need to. 

“This is the challenge of our generation – and I refuse to let it become a challenge for our children and their children. The IAFF will do whatever is necessary to remove PFAS from our gear, protect the health of our members, and the well-being of our families.” 

One of the primary components of firefighters' gear is the turnout coat, which is designed to protect firefighters from heat and flames. Turnout coats are typically made from a combination of synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, which may contain PFAS. PFAS can be added to these materials to make them more water and stain-resistant, which can be important in firefighting situations. 

Another component of firefighters' gear that may contain PFAS is the firefighting foam that is used to extinguish fires. PFAS are often added to firefighting foam to make it more effective at extinguishing certain types of fires, such as those involving flammable liquids. However, this has led to contamination of soil and groundwater in many areas where the foam has been used. 

In addition to turnout coats and firefighting foam, other components of firefighters' gear may contain PFAS. These can include gloves, boots, helmets, and other protective equipment. PFAS can be used in these materials to make them more durable and resistant to wear and tear, which is important for equipment that is subjected to high levels of stress and heat.  

The use of PFAS in firefighters' gear has become a concern due to the potential health risks associated with these chemicals. PFAS are known to persist in the environment and can accumulate in the human body over time. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a range of health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and immune system dysfunction. 

To address this concern, many manufacturers of firefighters' gear have begun to develop PFAS-free products. These products use alternative materials and coatings that do not contain PFAS but are still able to provide the necessary protection and durability that firefighters require. 

The IAFF have retained three firms in order to launch a number of legal claims, including a challenge to regulatory standards in the United States and Canada, to establish statutory requirements that all turnout gear be replaced with the new PFAS-free alternatives that have been developed, and to win compensation for PFAS-related occupational injuries. 

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