NFPA Rejects Appeal from IAFF on Firefighter PPE and PFAS

Firefighter in full PPE with a saw

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Committee has voted to reject an appeal aiming to remove a testing standard related to the continued use of “forever chemicals” in firefighter personal protective equipment.

Back at a meeting in late August 2021, the Standards Council considered a tentative interim amendment (TIA) that would remove an ultra-violet (UV) light degradation test applicable to firefighter turnout gear. The appeal from Ed Kelly of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) asserted that requiring this test “causes the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the moisture barriers of turnout gear.”

Also: Effort to Rid Fire Gear of ‘Forever Chemicals’ Fails Key Vote

Studies of PFAS have raised significant alarm in the firefighting community about the carcinogenic risks these chemicals pose to firefighters and the wider population. Four of the top eight cancers that are detected more commonly in firefighters —including testicular cancer, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and prostate cancer—have been linked to PFAS.

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In a brief issued on September 10, 2021, the NFPA Standards Council said “this appeal does not present any clear and substantial basis upon which to overturn the results yielded by the NFPA standards development process,” and voted to deny the appeal.

According to the release, opponents to this TIA agreed that PFAS should be removed or limited where possible, but expressed concern that removing the test without understanding of how removal will affect the moisture barrier could inherently be a serious risk to firefighter safety, given that the barrier is a primary protection from water and other commons liquids firefighters may encounter on the job.

“The International Association of Fire Fighters is dismayed by the NFPA Standards Council’s decision to deny implementation of TIA 1594 to NFPA Standard 1971,” the IAFF said in a statement. “The UV light degradation test for moisture barriers is illogical, not supported by science, stands as a hurdle to advancing the state of the art in fire fighter PPE and the development of PFAS free gear for fire fighters who already suffer a myriad of carcinogenic and other toxic exposures. The IAFF will not be swayed by those who attempt to minimize the health hazards of PFAS in our gear and will not relent in our drive to develop safe and effective PPE for our members.”

“It is time to end this needless regulation and spark innovation,” said Frank Ricci, Fellow of Labor with the Yankee Institute and retired battalion chief for the New Haven (CT) Fire Department. “The UV light test is stopping fire departments from moving towards procurement of PPE that doesn’t contain forever chemicals. Firefighters should be fighting fires, not NFPA and the gear companies. It is time to support the free market by allowing fire departments to order gear without chemicals.”

Editor’s note: Updated on September 14, 2021, to include statements from the IAFF and Ricci.

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