November 1, 2022

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PFAS in Firefighting: Safety Tips from Gordon Graham

Gordon Graham
Category: Fire

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for my friends in the fire service. 

And today I am talking about some of the most dangerous chemical substances we encounter in fire service operations.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl also known as P-F-A-S are found in both aqueous film-forming foam, or Class B foam, and in our bunker gear. P-F-A-S are “forever” chemicals. That means they don’t break down in the environment.  

P-F-A-S is a class of over 9,000 chemicals, many of which do not have names. They are all highly toxic and have been linked to mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer. These cancers are in the top 8 that firefighters contract at rates higher than the public.  

Although many states have now banned the use of Class B foam, it’s still around in some forms. What does this mean for fire departments? The bottom line is: 

  • Your department should use Class A foam for training and most incidents requiring foam. 
  • If you have current stocks of Class B foam, use it only in accordance with state law or in extreme circumstances to protect life or critical infrastructure. 
  • If you aren’t already, start stocking fluorine-free foams and retiring your current Class B stock. 

What about for you as an individual firefighter? P-F-A-S is used in your PPE’s outer shell and as a moisture barrier on your bunker gear to make it water-resistant and oil-resistant. But P-F-A-S breaks down over time when exposed to sunlight, water, and heat. This means your PPE sheds P-F-A-S for the entire time it is used.  

Studies show P-F-A-S in the dust in both fire stations and homes. So, take precaution with your gear and the toxins it may carry.  

PPE manufacturers are studying how to make gear that doesn’t carry P-F-A-S. Until it is not an issue, reduce your exposure by:  

  • Keeping PPE separate from the living areas of the fire station. 
  • Mopping fire station floors twice as often as you do now. 
  • Not letting children or others wear your PPE. 
  • Only wearing bunker/turnout gear when necessary. 

Be diligent and stay safe. And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off. 

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