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New Information on Potential Carcinogens in Firefighter Gear

Posted: May 11, 2023

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a report on the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighter turnout gear. PFAS are a category of manufactured chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases. They are a growing concern to firefighters who already face increased cancer risk from fire-related exposures such as smoke and soot, as well as vehicle exhaust and other hazardous materials.

The report provides an in-depth examination of a range of textiles used in turnout gear coats and pants, which are constructed in 3 layers: an outer shell, a moisture barrier and a thermal barrier. The research showed that the amount of PFAS present varies widely between manufacturers and layers, with the highest PFAS concentrations observed in the outermost 2 layers. The results of the study suggest that selecting optimal combinations of fabrics for each layer could significantly reduce the amount of PFAS present in turnout gear.

The study detailed in this report is one of many ongoing research projects designed to inform the updating of turnout equipment standards to better protect firefighters.

Why are there PFAS in turnout gear?

The properties of PFAS can impart water and oil resistance to fabrics so they are often used to help firefighter gear meet the safety standards of the National Fire Protection Association Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (NFPA 1971) criteria for resistance to heat, water and other hazards.

This article is based on content in the
May 11, 2023 InfoGram.

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