NVFC Makes Recommendations to Mitigate Risks from Forever Chemicals

Turnout gear hanging in fire department stationA recent study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) uncovered concerning data that protective clothing worn by firefighters often contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, chemicals that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health effects.

According to NIST, PFAS are used in many products because they can make things resistant to oil, water, and stains. They are often present in clothing, furniture, food packaging, and nonstick cookware, among other things. They play a particularly important role in turnout gear by helping firefighters to do their job without getting totally drenched. PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is committed to the health and safety of all responders and makes the following recommendations to mitigate risks posed by PFAS in turnout gear:

  • Turnout gear should not be taken into living quarters at home or in the station.
  • Because carcinogenic agents from fires off-gas for 72-hours after a fire, immediate attention to the cleaning of the gear is required after an incident.
  • Turnout gear preferably should not be carried in the passenger compartment of personal vehicles. If gear must be transported, gear should be placed in a sealed container and bag and placed as far away from human occupants as possible (such as a trunk or truck bed).
  • Regular cleaning of apparatus cabs should be conducted, especially following a fire incident.
  • Washing your hands after handling turnout gear should be a part of your routine.
  • The replacement of legacy turnout gear should be prioritized as new PFAS-free technologies become available.
  • Do not wear turnout gear on responses where this level of protection is not necessary.
  • Annual cancer prevention messaging should be included in training programs.

In addition to taking these recommended actions, the NVFC strongly recommends firefighters take the actions outlined in the Lavender Ribbon Report to reduce cancer risks and protect themselves from harmful carcinogens.