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Recent evidence states firefighters may be exposed to toxins from their wearable fire protection or turnout gear. Because firefighters must be protected from water and potential steam burns, their protective equipment is treated with PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS is also found in firefighting foam and is linked to cancer, immune issues, asthma, and other complications.

Turnout gear treated with PFAS

A class of manufactured chemicals known as PFAS—which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—is responsible for making turnout gear water-and-heat proof. Because PFAS don’t break down in the environment, they exist forever. These toxins are featured in 3M’s Scotchgard stain repellent and on cookware and other consumer products requiring protection from heat and corrosion.

A new study by Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, showed unsafe levels of fluorine associated with PFAS were found in firefighters’ protective gear.

Peaslee and other researchers tested thirty new and used turnout jackets and pants marketed initially, distributed, and sold in 2008, 2014, and 2017. Six turnout gear makers manufactured the samples, including the “Globe” and “Lion” brands. Results showed that the fabric used to create turnout gear was either heavily treated with PFAS or was made with fluoropolymers, a type of PFAS that creates an oil-and-water resistant final product.

How PSAF causes turnout gear injuries for firefighters

A firefighter’s turnout gear has three different layers:

  • The thermal layer, or the innermost layer that touches the skin
  • The middle layer acts as a barrier to protect the thermal layer from becoming wet
  • The outer shell, or the coating that resists heat from a fire

Concentrated amounts of fluorine were in the middle layer and the outer shell. Some of the PFAS in these layers can flake off, contaminating the thermal layer that makes contact with the skin. If the firefighter is sweating, some of these chemicals can transfer from the thermal layer into the skin.

Exposure to PFAS has been associated with the development of four of the eight primary cancers most often diagnosed in firefighters:

  • Testicular cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer

Firefighting foam injuries

In addition to the firefighters’ gear containing dangerous chemicals, the foam used to extinguish petroleum fires also contains PFAS. The Department of Defense began using this foam on military bases in the 1970s. Since then, military and civilian firefighters have used it while training and extinguishing fires.

Studies show firefighting foam can leave PFAS residue in groundwater for 15 years. Plants and animals, including fish, dolphins, and polar bears, have been found with PFAS residue.

In response, Congress is attempting to prohibit the Department of Defense from buying firefighting foam made of PFAS after October 1, 2022, and ceasing its use among military personnel after October 1, 2023. The Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act is legislation that would authorize a complete study of the gear worn by firefighters, including how much PFAS exposure they experience.

State authorities have also taken action against firefighting foam manufacturers, with the Florida Attorney general filing a lawsuit against DuPont, Tyco Fire, and other manufacturers. ‘The suit alleges that these companies knowingly polluted the earth and put consumers at risk with their PFAS-based products.

Goldberg & Rosen is here to represent injured firefighters

If you or a family member have suffered severe health complications after using firefighting foam or turnout gear treated with PFAS, you may have a legal claim against the manufacturer.

Goldberg & Rosen is dedicated to helping firefighters hold manufacturers of firefighting foam accountable for the decades of exposure to cancer-causing molecules. Our firm represents individuals and families against manufacturers of firefighting foam, airport workers, chemical industry workers, and military service members exposed to PFAS.

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If you or a loved one have been the victim of negligence or misconduct, please do not hesitate to contact among the best attorneys Miami has available at Goldberg & Rosen today to receive expert guidance about your legal options, as well as a free and confidential case evaluation.

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