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San Francisco poised to ban ‘forever chemicals’ in firefighter gear

By 37ci3 May14,2024

San Francisco is poised to become the first city in the country to ban firefighter uniforms made with permanent chemicals.

Local MPs are expected to adopt the decree on Tuesday prohibits the use of protective products made of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Long-term compounds do not decompose, which allows them to remain almost permanently in the environment.

PFAS can be taken or absorbed through the skin and is associated with adverse health effects, including reduced fertility, low birth weight and stunted growth in children, increased risk of certain cancers, and increased cholesterol levels, According to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Compounds were once commonly used in non-stick, fire-resistant and stain-resistant products, although they are mainly US production was phased out. But PFAS are still found in some firefighting foams and almost all firefighter clothing because they help the clothing repel flammable liquids and resist extreme heat.

A San Francisco firefighter on a ladder
A San Francisco firefighter fights a fire in 2019. San Francisco Chronicle via Carlos Avila Gonzalez/Getty Images

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the ban last week and is expected to do the same in a final vote. Once enacted, the law would have given the city’s fire department until June 30, 2026, to purchase new PFAS-free protective clothing for more than 1,400 firefighters.

‘Forever chemicals’ in fire extinguishers

Lt. Magali Saade, a firefighter and training instructor with the San Francisco Fire Department, was twice diagnosed with cancer, forcing her to undergo radiation and a double mastectomy.

He believes he wore protective pants and jackets during his 26 years as a firefighter because they were manufactured with PFAS.

“I definitely don’t want anyone else to go through what I did,” Saade said.

Lieutenant Magaly Saade.
Lt. Magali Saade, a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department, is a two-time cancer survivor.Bigad Shaban

He added that “putting potentially harmful chemicals into equipment that people use Those who are already there to risk their lives for you seem really harmful.”

However, the exact levels of PFAS that firefighters are exposed to through their uniforms are still being studied and remain largely unknown. At work, they are also exposed to other cancer-causing substances in various ways. Because of the exposure of first responders to smoke, asbestos, diesel fumes and other hazards, the World Health Organization classifies the fire extinguisher as a carcinogen.

According to the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, the San Francisco Fire Department has lost more than 300 firefighters to cancer in the past 20 years.

“Cheaper than cancer”

Protective products made without PFAS are not yet widely available.

Since February, 11 San Francisco firefighters have been testing new exits made without PFAS — part of a nationwide trial organized by the International Association of Firefighters, the union representing firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders.

The trial examines the reliability of clothing from three companies: Fire-Dex, Lion and Honeywell. The group hopes to announce preliminary results this summer.

Adam Wood, vice president of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Foundation, is one of the firefighters testing the equipment. He said the garment appeared as designed.

“In terms of working on the fire, allowing us to do our jobs, keeping us out of the heat – I have nothing but good things to report,” he said.

Adam Wood zips up his coat while putting on his jersey
San Francisco firefighter Adam Wood wears experimental protective gear.Courtesy of Michael Horn

According to , the estimated price tag for each participation produced without PFAS is $3,400 report By the San Francisco Office of the Budget Analyst. Since there are generally two sets of fire hydrants, the total cost to the city is $10.1 million.

“It’s less expensive than cancer and less expensive than a firefighter’s life,” Wood said.

Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, author legislationhe said he was “morally right and financially right”.

“The cost is so small compared to human life, so small compared to health care costs, so small compared to the cost of settling court cases,” he said.

Portrait of Aaron Peskin
San Francisco Superintendent Aaron Peskin.Courtesy of Michael Horn

The push against PFAS

Supporters of San Francisco’s ban say the health risks associated with PFAS have been known for years. In 2020, A He is studying at the University of Notre Dame raised serious safety concerns about the release of PFAS in firefighter clothing. Government researchers then published similar findings.

California went into effect in 2022 almost a total ban In firefighting foams that contain PFAS, because the chemicals can leach into the environment wherever the foams are used. Foams have served as the industry standard in the state for nearly five decades and continue to be used in many places.

Other states, including Colorado and Washington, have enacted similar restrictions.

But PFAS is still used in the production of prints.

The International Association of Fire Fighters blames the lack of PFAS-free options in industry specifications released by the National Fire Protection Association and is currently suing some of those standards. However, NFPA says its standards were developed by “expert volunteers,” including “many members of the firefighting community,” and do not require the use of PFAS, leaving the choice to private companies.

Proponents of San Francisco’s ban believe it could push manufacturers away from the compounds.

Trade ‘one threat to another?’

Questions remain about the long-term safety of PFAS-free alternatives for firefighters.

“We don’t want to simply trade one threat for another,” he said. “We have to ask the questions about what some are, what could happen.”

PFAS and non-PFAS fabrics
The pieces were tested in a laboratory at North Carolina State University.James DeAlto

Ormond says his work so far has shown that removing PFAS can make firefighters’ uniforms less breathable and more susceptible to burns. He found that alternate fabrics can be 60% less pushy than traditional turns.

“We’re introducing a potential hazard for ignition at the fire scene where firefighters haven’t had it before,” he said.

Wood agreed that more research and testing is still necessary.

“We just have to make sure they protect us from the heat and allow us to do our work in a burning building,” he said. “We need to know that replacing PFAS does not replace one toxin with another.”

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