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PFAS-free bunker gear gains momentum at NFPA meeting

July 1, 2024

IAFF pushes for health and safety at NFPA technical meeting

PFAS-free bunker gear is one step closer to reality, thanks to the efforts from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) at the recent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

As reported by the IAFF, a group of delegates led by General President Edward Kelly attended the meeting to voice critical health and safety concerns.

NFPA voting members were considering several Certified Amending Motions (CAMs) to NFPA 1970, the standard governing firefighter protective gear.

The draft standard aimed to create a list of restricted substances and remove the moisture barrier UV light degradation test, which has required the use of toxic PFAS in bunker gear.

Kelly emphasized the importance of prioritizing firefighter health and safety: “Any standard governing the gear we put on every day must make fire fighter health and safety its highest priority.

“If we aren’t able to do this dangerous job as safely as possible, the communities we serve suffer.”

Industry resistance and IAFF’s stance

One CAM, submitted by chemical manufacturer 3M, would have delayed the publication of the new Standard 1970 by up to two years.

Dr. Dan Whu, MD, the IAFF’s Chief Medical Officer, criticized this motion: “Advancements in health and safety must be rooted in medical science, not the interests of manufacturers.

Continuing to require a UV light test of the bunker gear’s moisture barrier, which is not exposed to UV light, does nothing other than needlessly increase our member’s cancer risks through exposure to carcinogenic PFAS within our PPE.”

Dr. Whu also noted the irresponsibility of maintaining standards that implicitly mandate the use of carcinogens: “At a time when innovative PFAS-free options are nearing market readiness, the continued support of a standard that implicitly mandates the use of known carcinogens in bunker gear is grossly irresponsible.”

Achievements and ongoing collaboration

IAFF subject matter experts successfully convinced 3M to withdraw its CAM, preventing a setback that would have sent the draft Standard back to committee.

This would have restarted the entire revision process.

In a separate CAM concerning the proper cleaning of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses (SCBA), the IAFF and 3M agreed to work together on a concurrent Temporary Interim Amendment (TIA).

This collaboration aims to provide firefighters with quicker access to guidance on maintaining their SCBAs.

Kelly underscored the IAFF’s determination: “For too long, these standards have served industry first and fire fighters second.

“Our health and safety are too important for the IAFF to sit quietly while manufacturers decide our fate.”

Additional CAM withdrawals and future actions

The union also secured the withdrawal of several other CAMs that could have negatively impacted the new Standard 1970.

Some motions required “conclusive evidence” to initiate corrective action, a high bar that the IAFF successfully lowered to “scientifically supported evidence.”

This change allows for more practical measures to address hazards.

Sean DeCrane, the IAFF’s Director of Health and Safety Operational Services, noted: “By working with the maker of those CAMs, we’ve ensured the new standard will include a clear definition of scientifically supported evidence.

“This resolution gives firefighters a mechanism to address any future chemical or physical hazards.”

The IAFF is also working with Cal Fire on a TIA to Standard 1970 regarding fire helmets, aiming to revise overly stringent requirements and allow for more affordable equipment.

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