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PFAS Chemicals and the Fire Family

February 09, 2023 3 min read

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in turnout gear subsequently means cancer causing chemicals could be reaching your family.

Ask yourself these questions to determine if PFAS from turnout gear could be impacting your family then we'll discuss where these chemicals are in turnout gear, the health effects of them and how they're being transferred to your family.

  • Does your firefighter take the proper steps to limit their own exposure to PFAS chemicals?
  • Does your firefighter ever come home from shift without showering first?
  • Do you own anything made out of turnout gear - hand bags, wallets, diaper bags, etc?
  • Are you taking family photos with turnout gear?

Last year the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) released a statement notify members of the adverse health risks from fire fighter turnout gear.You can read that statement here.

As we learn more, we know that the moisture barrier inside the turnout gear is made with PFAS chemicals, that most of the turnout gear being used today also had another layer mechanically applied to the moisture barrier containing PFAS chemicals. Then the outer layer of turnout gear has also been traditionally finished with a layer of PFAS chemicals to help keep out water, oils, fuels, and other particulate. The high amounts of Fluorine in this layer is reduced overtime as a result of it breaking down and turning into a dust that is constantly shedding and getting on our skin as we touch it and lungs as we breath it in. When it gets on the skin it is absorbed into the skin and can be ingested if hand washing doesn't occur before eating.

Research has found that PFAS exposure is linked to a range of adverse health affects, such as cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and liver, kidney, and thyroid damage. In addition, studies have found that firefighters exposed to PFAS in their turnout gear are at an increased risk of developing these health problems.

Now it's time that we take a look at how this could be impacting our fire families.

First, the obvious, your firefighter is exposed to PFAS though turnout gear and should be taking the proper steps to limit their exposure and mitigate the risks of health problems developing as a result. To do this firefighters should was their hands after they have touched their turnout gear, whether that be for a call or moving it on the rig. They should be using a product likeFLAME Decon to remove carcinogens after a fire and anytime they're on shift to limit the amount of time these chemicals stay on their skin. Anytime they have a fire call they should be usingFirewipes and doing gross decon while still on scene. They should also be wet washing surfaces in the firehouse to keep from blowing the dust around the inhaling it. Last but not least, they should be showering and putting on clean clothes before they head home to see the family and leaving all gear at work or in a sealed container outside of the home.

Now that we know what we know about PFAS in turnout gear and how it not only comes from substances that are burning in a fire, but is in the gear out of the factory and cannot be removed by washing it, we can see why it's not a good idea to use items made of turnout gear with your family and in your home. We don't want these cancer causing chemicals touching the skin of our family members or the dust ending up on baby or personal care items. And as adorable as the baby photos on turnout gear are, you might want to consider skipping those until regulations change and brand new turnout gear can actually be carcinogen free. Until then we recommend getting rid of all home accessories made of turnout gear and having the conversation with your firefighter about keeping clean coming home clean.

To learn more about PFAS in turnout gear, check out thepodcast I recently recorded with National Fire Radio here.