- U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan and six other lawmakers introduced a bill last month to support the development of PFAS-free firefighter gear.
- “Forever chemicals” are used in various aspects of firefighter protective gear, making it water, oil and heat-resistant. PFAS, which are found in all three layers of personal protective equipment known as turnout gear, also help shield firefighters from other hazards like biological agents.
- If passed, the legislation would allot $25 million a year for four years to the U.S. Fire Administration to support the development and testing of PFAS-free turnout gear, as well as support training for firefighters on proper care of the newly designed equipment.
The Protecting Firefighters and Advancing State-of-the-Art Alternatives Act, or PFAS Alternatives Act, is another example of the growing push to remove forever chemicals from a range of products as states and federal authorities move to more strictly regulate the chemicals.
Dingell’s bill was developed with input from the International Association of Fire Fighters, an industry group that represents more than 339,000 firefighters and paramedics in the U.S. and Canada. The group is making its own push to remove PFAS from turnout gear and has endorsed the bill.
The bill would authorize $2 million a year to support guidance and training for firefighters and other first responders on reducing potentially harmful exposures by properly wearing, decontaminating and caring for turnout gear.
MSA Safety subsidiary Globe Manufacturing Co., a New Hampshire-based turnout gear manufacturer, has voiced its support for the PFAS Alternatives Act bill, highlighting how the legislation will help more safely protect firefighters.
However, meeting the request for PFAS-free equipment has been challenging for the turnout gear industry, the company said in a press release. That’s because the protective gear has to meet the National Fire Protection Association standards’ safety requirements, which Globe Manufacturing said no firefighter protective clothing maker can meet without the use of the chemicals.
“All [National Fire Protection Association]-compliant moisture barriers available on the market today contain PFAS in some form,” the company said in a statement. “The PFAS Alternatives Act will provide support to address this opportunity for innovation, complementing private sector efforts already underway.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters is also going after the issue. The association filed suit against the National Fire Protection Association in March “for its role in imposing a testing standard that effectively requires the use of PFAS in firefighter protective gear.” The lawsuit seeks damages and other relief.
In addition to the turnout gear, firefighters have been exposed to aqueous firefighting foam, a substance that also contains PFAS and has been the subject of multiple state and public water system lawsuits against chemical manufacturers like 3M and DuPont de Nemours.
While most anyone can be exposed to PFAS in their environment, firefighters are shown to face higher levels of exposure than the general public, making them at higher risk for thyroid, kidney, bladder, testicular, prostate and colon cancer.
Last year, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association advised firefighters only to utilize the turnout gear when protection is necessary to reduce their exposure to forever chemicals until PFAS-free alternatives are available.