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New study finds 99 per cent of fluorine found in fire station dust came from unknown PFAS

February 8, 2021
By FFIC Staff

Feb. 8, 2021, Washington —A new study looked at firefighters’ exposure to the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Nearly 99 percent of the fluorine found in tests of dust from inside fire stations likely came from unknown PFAS chemicals that could not be identified as ones that researchers had tested for.

The study by researchers from Notre Dame and Harvard, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, measured 24 PFAS and total fluorine in dust from 15 fire stations. About 60 percent of the stations no longer used PFAS-based firefighting foam, also known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF. The others used AFFF very rarely.

The findings raise concerning questions, said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, in a press statement.

“What are these unknown PFAS? “Why were the levels higher in the firefighters’ gear lockers and apparatus bays? The turnout gear used by firefighters may be a more important source of PFAS exposure for firefighters than previously known.”

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Some PFAS chemicals, including PFOS in firefighting foam, have been linked to serious health hazards, including cancer.

The researchers vacuumed floor dust samples of various rooms in 15 fire stations in eastern Massachusetts and measured levels of PFAS in 39 dust samples. They also measured PFAS in six wipe samples of turnout gear.

The dust samples from turnout gear locker areas had higher levels of several PFAS than the dust from the station living areas, and those PFAS were also detected on the turnout gear, based on the wipe samples.

The findings reinforce an earlier study by researchers from Notre Dame University that found PFAS used to treat firefighters’ gear could pose a threat to their health.

“If they touch the gear, it gets on their hands, and if they go fight a fire and they put the gear on and take it off and then go eat and don’t wash hands, it could transfer hand to mouth,” researcher Graham Peaslee, Ph.D., a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, said in a news release on the earlier study. “And if you’re sweating and you have sweat pores, could some of these chemicals come off on the thermal layer and get into the skin? The answer is probably.”

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, completed in 2015, found “evidence that firefighters are at increased risk of certain types of cancer as a result of occupational exposure.” Although the study did not look at PFAS specifically, other studies have linked these compounds to an increased cancer risk.