IAFF Files Suit Against NFPA Over Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Gear

March 17, 2023
The lawsuit seeks to hold the NFPA liable for not removing a test for turnout gear that required PFAS.

The International Association of Fire Fighters has filed a lawsuit to remove “cancer-causing” PFAS chemicals from firefighter protective gear.

The labor union on Thursday in Dedham’s Norfolk County Superior Court sued the National Fire Protection Association, citing NFPA’s role in imposing a testing standard that effectively requires the use of PFAS in gear.

PFAS, toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are found in firefighter bunker gear and have been linked to cancer, the leading cause of firefighter death. Nearly 75% of those honored at the 2022 Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial died of occupational cancer.

“The very gear designed to protect firefighters, to keep us safe, is killing us,” said General President Edward Kelly, adding that the testing standard from NFPA “needlessly requires the use of PFAS in firefighter gear.”

“It’s about removing the cancer-causing chemicals in our gear and finding justice for our brother and sister members,” Kelly said about the lawsuit that seeks damages and other relief.

NFPA’s Standard 1971 establishes minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and biological hazards faced during firefighting.

The standard calls for using PFAS in the middle moisture barrier of firefighter bunker gear to satisfy the NFPA’s Ultraviolet Light Degradation Test — which requires turnout gear to be exposed to UV light for 40 hours without degradation. The only substance that can pass the test for that long is PFAS.

The lawsuit seeks to hold the NFPA liable for not removing the dangerous test from its Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.

“Even when presented with independent science on the health and safety risks, the NFPA has refused to help save our lives,” Kelly said. “The IAFF has a duty to protect our members’ health and their families’ wellbeing.”

The IAFF has retained three law firms in its effort to combat cancer in the fire service. The firms, collectively known as the PFAS Law Firms, are available to assist IAFF members made sick by PFAS exposure at work.

NFPA in a statement said, “NFPA shares the concern of the entire fire service community around the health and safety of first responders. We have not yet been served with this complaint so we can’t comment on it.”

NFPA added, “The specific issue of the first responder PPE is before the Technical Committee for NFPA 1970, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Firefighting, Work Apparel and Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) through our open-consensus standards development process.”

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