True Cellular Formulas Team - July 11, 2023

PFAs in Firefighters' Suits

A Cancer-Causing Concern for Everyone

PFAs in Firefighters' Suits

Imagine this. Firefighters, heroes who bravely walk into the fiery jaws of danger, are fighting another unseen enemy, one that's woven into the very fabric of their protective gear. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has recently filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) claiming that a specific group of chemicals called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs), present in their protective gear, is directly contributing to cases of occupational cancer.[1]

But why should this concern you? You're not a firefighter, after all. This is where the plot thickens. PFAs are not exclusive to firefighters' gear; they are embedded in many common products that we use daily. These synthetic chemicals are extensively used in various consumer goods, thanks to their heat, water, and stain-resistant properties.

Firefighters are equipped with gear that's designed to protect them against the unforgiving flames they face. However, the protective suits they don carry a sinister secret: PFAs. The IAFF alleges that these harmful chemicals are a leading cause of occupational cancer among firefighters, with nearly 75% of those honored at the fallen firefighter memorial last year having died of occupational cancer.[2]

What's more concerning is that the NFPA standard essentially mandates the inclusion of PFAs in protective gear. The lawsuit focuses on a specific standard that requires a 40-hour UV light test for the moisture barrier inside bunker gear. The IAFF alleges that this time frame was deliberately chosen because PFAs-containing materials are the only ones that can pass this test. If the duration were any shorter or longer, other materials, not containing PFAs, would pass or none would pass at all, respectively.[3]

You might be thinking, "Well, I don't wear a firefighter's suit, so I'm safe, right?" Unfortunately, PFAs are more common than we'd like to believe. These chemicals are found in many products that we use regularly, including non-stick cookware, water, and stain-resistant fabrics, and certain types of firefighting foam.[4] They are even present in some food packaging. So, while we may not be wearing bunker gear, we are likely coming into contact with PFAs daily.

The health risks associated with PFAs exposure are concerning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that PFAs have been linked to various health issues, including cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases.[5] Many peer-reviewed studies echo the CDC's warnings, showing clear links between PFAs exposure and these health problems.[6]

The IAFF, understanding the gravity of the situation, is determined to alter the standard for testing protective gear. They are striving to hold the NFPA accountable for the current standards, arguing that it's harming firefighters and their families.[7] Their ultimate aim is to eliminate the need for PFAs in protective gear, thereby reducing the risk of cancer among firefighters.

But, what can you, as an average person, do? Start by limiting your exposure to PFAs. You can do this by choosing products that are PFAs-free, like cookware, or opting for natural, untreated fabrics whenever possible. It's also beneficial to stay informed about PFAs and their potential health risks.

The fight against PFAs is not just a firefighters' battle; it's ours too. By becoming more aware of these chemicals and taking steps to reduce our exposure, we can contribute to a healthier future for all.

PFAs: The Invisible Ingredient in Firefighter Suits You Should Worry About, Too

Firefighters confront blazing infernos, willingly risking their lives to keep us safe. In these perilous conditions, their protective gear serves as a life-saving shield. But unbeknownst to many, this gear harbors a hidden threat, a group of chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs). A recent lawsuit by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has brought this danger into sharp focus, not just for our brave firefighters, but for every one of us.[8]

PFAs have been widely used in industries worldwide since the 1940s due to their heat, oil, stain, grease, and water resistance. This characteristic has made them a popular choice in various everyday products.[9]

In the realm of firefighting, protective gear's essential function is to shield those on the front lines from the intense heat of fires. But the IAFF lawsuit claims that the very suits designed for protection are contributing to a troubling rise in occupational cancer. Approximately 75% of the honorees at the most recent fallen firefighter memorial died from occupational cancer, and the union believes there is a direct correlation with PFA-infused gear.[10]

Central to the IAFF's lawsuit is the NFPA's requirement for a 40-hour UV light test for the moisture barrier within the bunker gear. The union argues that this specific timeframe was selected purposefully because PFAs-containing materials are the only ones able to pass such a test. A deviation in the timeframe—either shorter or longer—would allow other materials either without PFAs or none at all to pass.[11]

While the issue of bunker gear may seem distant for most, it's essential to recognize the pervasive nature of PFAs. These chemicals are commonly found in items that we encounter daily, including non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and certain food packaging.[12] Our everyday exposure to PFAs makes it a relevant concern for everyone.

The health implications associated with PFAs are concerning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and various other diseases.[13] Multiple peer-reviewed studies echo the CDC's concerns, underlining the clear correlation between PFAs exposure and these health issues.[14]

The IAFF is advocating for change in the testing standards of protective gear to eliminate PFAs. They aim to hold the NFPA accountable, contending that the current standard is harming firefighters and their families. Their ultimate goal is to eliminate the requirement for PFAs in firefighting gear, thereby reducing the risk of cancer in this high-risk profession.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Begin by reducing PFAs exposure in your home and daily routines. Choose PFAs-free alternatives for items like cookware or untreated fabrics. Stay informed about the presence of PFAs and their potential health impacts.

The battle against PFAs is not restricted to firefighters—it's a fight that we all should partake in. By being aware and making proactive changes to minimize our exposure, we can contribute significantly towards a healthier future for all.

Pervasive PFAs: What You Need to Know

PFAs, present in firefighting suits, are not restricted to the perils of a burning building. They have infiltrated our everyday lives, commonly found in a broad array of consumer goods. These can include non-stick cookware, water, and stain-resistant fabrics, food packaging materials, and even certain types of cosmetics.[15]

The extensive use of PFAs is primarily due to their robustness. They resist heat, water, and oil — properties that have made them particularly useful in a vast range of products. But while their resilience has facilitated our modern, convenient lifestyles, it's also what makes these chemicals persist in the environment and in our bodies, earning them the moniker "forever chemicals".[16]

While these ubiquitous substances offer convenience, they come with considerable health concerns. As mentioned earlier, the CDC has linked PFAs to numerous health issues, including cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and several other diseases.[17] This is not a distant concern exclusive to our brave firefighters; it's an issue that affects us all given our regular interactions with PFAs-laden products.

If you're wondering how you can limit your PFAs exposure, consider a few key areas. When purchasing cookware, opt for those clearly labeled as PFOA-free. Avoid microwave popcorn, as many brands use PFAs in their bags. Steer clear of stain-resistant sprays for your furniture and carpets, and reconsider the need for water-resistant clothing.[18]

Moreover, becoming an informed consumer is key. Awareness about the products you use daily can greatly reduce your PFA exposure. Always read labels and choose PFAs-free products whenever possible.

The fight against PFAs is not solely a fight for firefighters. The ubiquitous presence of these chemicals means we're all affected. It's essential to stay informed about the substances in our environment and to make conscious decisions that protect our health. The IAFF lawsuit against the NFPA marks a significant step towards challenging the unchecked use of PFAs. But as consumers, we too have a role to play in demanding safer, PFAs-free products.

A Call to Action: Our Role in the Fight Against PFAs

The current lawsuit by the IAFF is about much more than firefighter suits—it’s a call to attention and action against the widespread use of PFAs. As consumers, we have the power to make choices that prioritize our health and the health of our environment.

Being aware of PFAs and their potential health implications is the first step towards making informed decisions. Before purchasing products, look for labels indicating they are PFAs-free. When possible, avoid items such as non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and certain types of food packaging, all known to potentially contain PFAs.[19]

Moreover, staying informed about ongoing research and legislation concerning PFAs can help guide our decisions and actions. As the IAFF's legal action against the NFPA unfolds, its outcomes could lead to significant changes in industry standards, not just for firefighters, but for all of us. By following these developments, we can align our choices and demands with the latest scientific findings, contributing to a broader societal shift towards PFA-free products.[20]

Finally, it's crucial to remember that the fight against PFAs is a collective one. Our individual choices, combined with our collective demand for safer products, can influence the actions of manufacturers and regulatory bodies. By choosing PFAs-free products and supporting organizations fighting against these harmful chemicals, we can protect not only our health but also the health of brave firefighters and generations to come.

The ongoing struggle of firefighters against cancer-causing PFAs underscores an issue that permeates our modern life. By choosing to act, we can contribute to a healthier future for us all, one free from the threat of "forever chemicals".

  1. Fent, K.W., et al., “Firefighters’ Absorption of PAHs and EDCs during Controlled Residential Fires by Job Assignment and Fire Attack Tactic.” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 30, no. 2, 2020, pp. 338–349.
  2. Cogliano, V.J., et al., “Preventable Exposures Associated with Human Cancers.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, vol. 103, no. 24, 2011, pp. 1827–1839.
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