Understanding the Risks of Forever Chemicals

Occupational cancer is the number one cause of line-of-duty deaths for fire fighters. Exposure to dangerous forever chemicals like PFAS has been shown to cause cancers.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) include more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals not found in nature. They’re often referred to as “forever chemicals” given their persistence in the environment and human body.

PFAS have been used in fire fighting foam since the 1960s and turnout gear since the 1990s.

Studies link PFAS exposure to the development of serious health effects, including cancer as well as impact on behavioral development and the metabolic, circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, neurological and reproductive systems.

PFAS in Turnout Gear

Studies have shown that all three layers of fire fighter turnout gear contain PFAS chemicals. Because of the toxic nature of these chemicals, bunker gear can put fire fighters at unnecessary risk of illness — yet PFAS-free alternatives are NOT manufactured in the United States or Canada at this time. The legal teams will join the immediate fight to change this to keep members safe.

Contact us to discuss a potential lawsuit

How to Limit PFAS Exposure

The time has long passed for occupational cancer to be an acceptable “part of the job.” The IAFF encourages all fire fighters to do what they can to limit and minimize exposure to the extent possible, by doing the following:

  • Keep gear in a sealed container or bag during transport
  • Clean apparatus cabs regularly after every fire
  • Wash your hands after handling turnout gear
  • Replace legacy gear with PFAS-free options once available
  • Use only for its intended design combatting structural or proximity fires
  • Help spread the message at your Local level

Our three firms are available to provide legal representation to pursue compensation on behalf of qualified fire fighters with cancer.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why does turnout gear contain PFAS?

PFAS are a major constituent of the moisture barrier, and they have been used in durable water repellent (DWR) finishes that provide water and oil repellency which have been applied to the outer shell, some thermal liners, and portions of the moisture barrier laminate in order to meet the testing requirements of the National Fire Protection Association’s 1971 Standard.

As of 2022, most turnout gear manufacturers began offering PFAS-free DWRs, yet the expanded-polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) moisture barriers still contain and emit PFAS.

Section 8.62 of NFPA Standard 1971 requires a light degradation resistance test for moisture barrier materials, which is preventing PFAS-free moisture barrier alternatives from coming to market.

Additionally, other elements within the NFPA 1971 standard and the new NFPA 1970 consolidated standard, which will replace NFPA 1971, serve as barriers to members being able to acquire verifiable PFAS-free turnout gear.

What is the IAFF doing about PFAS?

The IAFF is taking on the fight, working through the NFPA Standards process to provide a pathway for PFAS-free turnout gear. Your union is also lobbying Congress and the Biden administration to provide funds and resources to develop next-generation, PFAS-free gear and support fire fighters.

What can be done at the local level to prevent exposure?

Local as well as state/provincial health and safety and wellness/fitness committees should help spread the message of the PFAS Joint Statement, including the precautionary recommendations. Local leadership should also encourage members not to use turnout gear other than for the specific hazards it is designed to protect from.

The IAFF Government Affairs Department has assisted several state affiliates in developing state-level legislation to ban PFAS-laden fire fighting foams, require PFAS-awareness labels on new bunker gear, and share points that can hopefully limit fire fighters’ exposures to PFAS.

Any affiliate interested in developing and promoting similar legislation in their state is encouraged to contact the IAFF Government Affairs Department for assistance.