Firefighters rally for ban on cancerous chemicals in gear

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Firefighters from El Dorado County and across California rallied outside the State Capitol May 29 in support of AB 2408, a bill that would ban the use of potentially harmful and cancer-causing chemicals in firefighting equipment.

The bill has already passed through the state Assembly and was just recently introduced to the Senate. Though the city of San Francisco recently passed a similar ban to protect firefighters, the legislation would mark California as the first state to pass a law protecting firefighters from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances being in their protective gear. California has previously responded to the danger posed by PFAS, passing legislation to restrict their use. In 2020, the state passed a law to phase out the use of PFAS-containing fire fighting foams typically used to combat chemical and oil fires. 

Turnout gear for firefighters such as the heavy, flame-resistant pants and coats are often made with textiles that contain PFAS. Synthetic chemicals that have seen widespread use in consumer products since the 1950s, PFAS are used in nonstick cookware, stain-resistant clothing, firefighting foam and more, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Due to the chemical structure of PFAS, they do not break down quickly, and have spread into water, soil and the air and are known as “forever chemicals.”

Firefighters stand outside the California State Capitol May 29, rallying in support of a bill that would ban the use of certain harmful chemicals in the production of firefighter gear.
Photo courtesy of the California Professional Firefighter Association

“Twenty years ago heart disease was the biggest threat to firefighter health,” states Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill. “Today, cancer has replaced heart disease as the biggest killer of firefighters. Firefighters put their lives at risk every day on the front lines saving lives, responding to emergencies and taking care of the vulnerable. We have an obligation to ensure they are not exposed to cancer-causing chemicals from the very equipment designed to keep them safe.”

Data analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans. Though some reports indicate a drop in some blood PFAS levels since the early 2000s, other, new PFAS chemicals have been created since. Health impacts from PFAS exposure are still being researched, but the CDC indicate it has been linked to increases in cholesterol, changes in liver enzymes, decreases in birth weight, lower antibody response to vaccines and kidney and testicular cancer. 

“The industry did nothing to alert firefighters of the presence of these toxic materials in the gear they wear to protect them while fighting fires,” states El Dorado County Professional Firefighters Association President Jacob Poganski.

“Meanwhile, firefighters and their families, with increased frequency, receive cancer diagnoses linked to PFAS exposure,” he continued. “It is disgusting to think that the complicit nature of manufacturers and suppliers has directly lead to a firefighters’ illness or death. If even one of our firefighters developed cancer because of wearing the gear they thought was protecting them — that’s one too many. AB 2408 will stop allowing manufacturers to sell toxic protective gear to firefighters in our community.”