In a recent commercial aired at half-time during last Saturday’s Notre Dame Football game; The University of Notre Dame puts the Fire Service on notice that they’ve been studying our fire gear and something is amiss. See here. and below.
We’ve reported fairly-widely on this topic, and we even broke this story almost 3 years ago (here) when Diane Cotter, the spouse of a cancer surviving firefighter from Worcester, Mass, stumbled into a rabbit-hole filled with chemical soup.
Diane had discovered that fire gear textile manufacturers were using PFAS, a chemical known to cause cancer, to impart water and heat resistance to the fabrics. If you really think about it, how on earth can we wear this gear and have repeated use and exposure to high heat and water without the fabrics themselves breaking down. Turns out, thick and heavy coatings of PFAS chemicals are impregnated into the fabrics of fire gear, so much so that as much as 35% of the fabric itself is made up of PFAS chemicals.
Ponder for a moment… What happens to water when it’s thrown into very high heat? It turns to steam, right? What happens to most liquids and or solids when they’re exposed to high heat? They expand, breakdown, off-gas and so forth. This is the concern with PFAS in fire gear. When our body heats up, our pores open, when the chemicals in our gear heat up we’re in a ripe condition for dermal absorption. There is an absorption study underway and we’ll hopefully have those results soon.
Aside from fires and dermal absorption, there is a real concern about the dust our fire gear sheds and the concentration of PFAS in that dust and microfibers which fluff off the gear. Storage of gear is a very real concern. While it may appear minor at first glance, the ingestion of this dust is a very real concern. It’s likely that cleaning and ventilation will likely be recommendations for the future.
With regard to contact, you can actually wipe your hand on the outer shell of your brand new, never used, turnout gear and your hand will test positive for PFAS. Graduate students at the University of Notre Dame were instructed to wear medical gloves when handling the unused fire gear to minimize unnecessary exposure. Please think about that for a moment. Gear samples were tested from 2004-2017.
A steering committee charged themselves with getting to the bottom of this situation Nuclear Physicist Dr. Graham Peaslee of Notre Dame, Diane & Paul Cotter of Worcester, MA. Kathy Crosby-Bell of the Last Call Foundation in Memory of Fallen Firefighter Michael Kennedy, PPE Specialist Jeff Knobbe, Station Pride Editor-Chief Jon Marr, Mitch Huner of Fire Maul Tools, and handfuls of others.
Last April Dr. Peaslee gave a PFAS lecture at FDIC and it’s believed he will do the same again this coming April. His peer-reviewed paper providing the results of this study is set to be published by the end of this year. The PFAS in Fire Gear concerns came at about the same time the fire service was wrestling with PFAS in AFFF and the poisoning of water tables at military bases all over the country and around the world. Once PFAS enters the groundwater it can never be removed and it lasts forever. The companies who produce these chemicals are undergoing intense litigation as well as a lawsuit already underway by Attorney Rob Billott on behalf of a firefighter. Likewise, their man-made chemical invention can be found in the bloodstreams of almost every American and has been known to cause cancers, tumors, immune-system problems and low birth-weights. But we’ll let the U.S. EPA do all the talking on that here –>
You can follow up on all the updates to this topic in the articles below.