7 Things To Know About PFAS and Firefighters

by | Mar 31, 2023

Firefighters gear

I. Introduction

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in various industrial and commercial applications for decades. Despite their widespread use, PFAS are now recognized as potentially harmful to human health and the environment. This article aims to provide an overview of PFAS and their risks, with a particular focus on their presence in firefighting gear and equipment.

II. What is PFAS?

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals that are used in a wide range of products, including non-stick coatings, waterproof fabrics, food packaging, firefighter personal protective equipment and firefighting foam. They are known for their unique properties, which include heat resistance, water repellency, and chemical stability. PFAS are not found naturally in the environment and are typically produced in a laboratory setting.

The use of PFAS in consumer products and industrial processes has led to their widespread presence in the environment, including in air, water, and soil. PFAS are known to persist in the environment for long periods of time and can accumulate in the bodies of animals and humans.

III. Risks of PFAS Exposure

PFAS exposure has been linked to several health risks, including cancer, developmental problems, and liver and kidney damage. Exposure can occur through contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE), clothes, and water.

Studies have shown that firefighters and first responders have a higher risk of exposure to PFAS due to their use of turnout gear and equipment treated with PFAS. The chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled through the lungs, and ingested through contaminated water and food.

In addition to firefighting gear, certain clothing brands have also been found to contain PFAS, particularly outdoor and sports clothing that is designed to be water and stain-resistant.

The regulatory landscape surrounding PFAS is still evolving, but there are steps being taken to reduce exposure. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued guidelines for the proper care and cleaning of firefighting gear to minimize exposure.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also set a health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water and is working to develop new regulations for PFAS.

IV. PFAS in Bunker Gear and Turnout Gear

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets standards and guidelines for the care and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE), including bunker gear and turnout gear. NFPA 1851 is the standard for selection, care, and maintenance of protective ensembles for structural firefighting and proximity firefighting.

Contaminated PPE, including bunker gear and turnout gear, can pose significant health risks to firefighters. This is particularly true for PFAS, which are commonly used in the manufacturing of these materials. Exposure to PFAS can occur when PPE is contaminated with PFAS during use, and this exposure can lead to a variety of health risks, including cancer, developmental problems, and liver and kidney damage.

To ensure safe and effective cleaning of PPE, it’s important to use Verified Independent Service Providers (ISPs). These programs are designed to ensure that PPE is cleaned and maintained according to NFPA 1851 standards and that any contamination is effectively removed. By using a Verified ISP, firefighters can be confident that their PPE is clean and safe to use. At RedLine we are a Verified ISP, but as a firefighter owned and operated business our only priority is ensuring the health and safety of every firefighter. That is why our decontamination process goes above and beyond the standards set out in NFPA 1851. Our goal is to be the best cleaning service in the industry with the highest standards available.

V. PFAS in Clothes and Water

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used in consumer products and industrial applications, and they are known to persist in the environment and human body. While many people may associate PFAS with drinking water contamination, it is also present in clothing and other textiles.

Clothing made with PFAS can release the chemical into the environment during washing, and people can be exposed to PFAS through skin contact and inhalation of dust and fibers. In addition, many waterproof and stain resistant fabrics contain PFAS, including outdoor clothing, carpets, and upholstery.

Another common source of PFAS exposure is through drinking water. PFAS can enter water supplies from industrial sites, military bases, and landfills, as well as from the use of firefighting foam. Once in the water supply, PFAS can accumulate in the bodies of fish and other aquatic organisms, as well as in the bodies of people who consume them.

Foods such as fish, shellfish, and other seafood are known to be high in PFAS, as are some processed foods and packaged goods. Because PFAS can persist in the body for a long time, it is important to take steps to reduce exposure and remove PFAS from the body.

One way to remove PFAS from the body is through a process called detoxification. This can involve a combination of dietary changes, such as increasing fiber intake and avoiding processed foods, and supplements that support liver function and toxin elimination.

While it can be challenging to completely avoid PFAS, there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their exposure. This includes choosing clothing made from natural fibers, avoiding products that contain PFAS, and using a certified filter to remove PFAS from drinking water. It is also important to properly dispose of PPE that may be contaminated with PFAS, such as firefighter turnout gear, and to be aware of the risks associated with PFAS exposure.

VI. Avoiding PFAS

Avoiding PFAS is an essential step in reducing exposure and potential health risks.

Here are some tips for avoiding PFAS:

1. Proper Decontamination of PPE: Firefighters should decontaminate PPE
according to the manufacturer’s instructions and NFPA 1851 standards. The
cleaning process should be done by a Verified ISP .

2. Avoid Products Containing PFAS: Consumers can reduce their exposure to
PFAS by avoiding products that contain PFAS. These products include non-stick
cookware, stain-resistant carpets, and some food packaging materials.

3. Test for PFAS in Water and Clothes: It’s important to test your water and clothes
for the presence of PFAS. If PFAS is detected, you can take steps to reduce your

4. Getting Rid of PFAS from Water: If you find PFAS in your water, there are several
methods you can use to remove it. These include activated carbon filters, reverse
osmosis systems, and ion exchange resin filters. It’s important to note that not all
filters are effective in removing PFAS, so be sure to choose a filter that is
specifically designed to remove PFAS.

By following these tips, you can reduce your exposure to PFAS and protect your health.

It’s essential to take action to prevent further contamination and reduce the potential
risks associated with PFAS exposure.

VII. Conclusion

In conclusion, PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that are commonly used in
various products and industries. However, their persistence in the environment and
human body can lead to serious health risks, including cancer and developmental
problems. Firefighters and others who work with PPE are particularly at risk for PFAS
exposure, especially if their gear is not properly cleaned and maintained.

PFAS can also be found in clothes, water, and food, so it is important to take steps to
avoid exposure. Proper disposal of contaminated PPE and avoidance of products that
contain PFAS can help reduce exposure. Testing for PFAS in water and clothes can
also provide important information, and there are ways to remove PFAS from water.

Overall, awareness and action are key in reducing PFAS exposure and protecting public
health. By taking steps to avoid exposure and advocating for stronger regulations and
safer products, we can work towards a healthier future.

Want to learn more about how RedLine is keeping thousands of firefighters safe and
healthy? Contact us for more information on our mobile cleaning service.