Study finds high levels of PFAS in turnout gear

The research team determined that PFAS could be transferred from the outer shell and moisture barrier to the thermal liner, contacting firefighters’ skin


Update June 24, 2020: The IAFF has released a statement regarding the University of Notre Dame research into the presence of PFAS in turnout gear. 

"The research studies conducted by Dr. Graham Peaslee and other researchers are important to the IAFF as they provide the data necessary to keep our members healthy by identifying where fire fighters are most exposed to cancer-causing agents," the statement reads. "Dr. Peaslee's latest research acknowledges that fire fighters have occupational exposure to PFAS from the use of AFFF, validating the IAFF's position on removing AFFF from use in active firefighting and training. Dr. Peaslee has also identified personal protective equipment (PPE) as another viable source of exposure."

Read the full statement below:

Original story:

By Laura French

Graham Peaslee, right, a researcher and physics professor at the University of Notre Dame, recently led a study that found PFAS in fabric samples from firefighter turnout gear. (Photo/University of Notre Dame)
Graham Peaslee, right, a researcher and physics professor at the University of Notre Dame, recently led a study that found PFAS in fabric samples from firefighter turnout gear. (Photo/University of Notre Dame)

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — A new study has found per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in fabric used for firefighter turnout gear. 

The study – published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters and led by Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame – involved the testing of more than 30 samples of used and unused turnout gear from six U.S. specialty textile manufacturers, according to a university news release

Researchers found the samples to be "treated extensively" with PFAS or constructed with fluoropolymers, a PFAS that makes textiles oil- and water-resistant, according to the release. 

The research team found high levels of fluorine on the moisture barrier and outer shell of the turnout gear. Peaslee raised concerns that the chemicals could contaminate the thermal layer and come in contact with the wearer's skin. 

"If they touch the gear, it get on their hands, and if they go fight a fire and they put the gear on and take it off and then go eat and don't wash hands, it could transfer hand to mouth," Peaslee said in a statement. "And if you're sweating and you have sweat pores, could some of these chemicals come off on the thermal layer and get into the skin? The answer is probably." 

The study also presented evidence of the potential hazard of these chemicals in PPE in two other ways:

  1. Dust samples taken from a PPE distribution facility in one fire district also tested positive for fluorine, consistent with the ability of these chemicals to shed off the gear onto other surfaces.
  2. The team also observed fluorine transfer from the outer shell onto gloved hands upon handling, proving that this could be an exposure source from PFAS to firefighters.

Peaslee added that more research should be done to determine the extent of the health risks to firefighters. 

Previous research has linked PFAS to four types of cancers common in firefighters, according to the university. 

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