Firefighters Warned Turnout Gear Contains Carcinogenic Chemicals

Firefighters Warned Turnout Gear Contains Carcinogenic Chemicals

Firefighters put their health and lives on the line every time they venture out to fight fires. These brave individuals deserve reverence and tools that will not only assist them in protecting communities but themselves. However, research shows that two critical firefighting instruments may jeopardize the lives of firefighters rather than save them. Firefighters are at risk of developing cancer due to PFAS in the firefighting foam they use to extinguish fires. Now, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) have warned firefighters against wearing their turnout gear out of concern for carcinogenic chemicals.

History of PFAS 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are human-made chemicals that manufacturers use in firefighting foams and manufactured goods. Industries first introduced PFAS in the 1940s, and the chemicals became widely popular.  Soon, the 3M Company devised ways to incorporate PFAS into several products, like cleaning and waterproof protectors. Then in the 1960s, 3M developed firefighting foams with PFAS that proved very effective in fighting fires. The military, firefighters, and even the airline industry grew to rely on firefighting foam with PFAS. 

PFAS consist of chemicals like fluorine and carbon, which are heat resistant. In addition to putting PFAS in firefighting foam, manufacturers have also used the chemicals in turnout gear. To create heat-resistant and water-repelling uniforms, companies design firefighting turnout gear with PFAS. However, 3M neglected to inform these industries or the public about the toxicity of PFAS. 

Firefighters Advised to Avoid Wearing Turnout Gear 

Several environmental and health organizations have labeled PFAS as probable human carcinogens. Firefighting associations released an advisory to firefighters worldwide regarding the cancer-causing chemicals in their gear. The organizations have urged firefighters only to wear their turnout gear when absolutely necessary. The turnout gear is protective clothing that shields firefighters from heat and repels water. Therefore, firefighters wear the turnout gear for extended periods while they tend to fires. 

The IAFF and Metro Chiefs warned that the dangers surpass simply wearing the turnout gear. Firefighters have now been instructed to tightly seal their turnout gear during transport and wash their hands after handling it. Also, the agencies notified firefighters to never bring their turnout gear into firehouse living areas. The International Agency for Research on Cancer designated the active chemicals in firefighting foam as “possible human carcinogens” in 2017. Recently, in July 2022, the IARC classified firefighting as a carcinogenic occupation. Countless studies have determined that firefighters are at a much higher risk of developing cancer than the general population. 

This information has prompted firefighters diagnosed with cancer and other medical conditions to file firefighting turnout gear lawsuits.