Lawsuit: Chemicals in firefighters’ gear causes cancer

Union sues National Fire Protection Association

HOUSTON – The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), a labor union representing more than 330,000 firefighters, filed a lawsuit Thursday against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the group that sets the standard for fire protection gear.

The lawsuit alleges that the NFPA imposes a testing standard that effectively requires the use of carcinogens in firefighter protective gear.

So-called “forever chemicals,” found to be carcinogenic in some instances, are used to manufacture the gear worn by firefighters. The chemicals in question are widely used and serve to add water resistance to firefighters’ “turn out gear” that they wear to fight fires.

“The increased rate of firefighter cancer is exponentially greater than that of the normal public. That’s because of all the carcinogens,” Houston area IAFF President Patrick Lancton said.

There is no gear that currently exists that meets fire service needs and does not contain “PFAS,” the “forever chemicals.”


HFD Chief Sam Pena sent the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

“HFD’s equipment meets and exceeds the current minimum standards.

“At issue are the “forever chemicals” used by all manufacturers to meet requirements of the moisture barrier in firefighters’ garments. The ultra-violate (UV) test for the moisture barrier in firefighting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required by NFPA is what drives the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl products (PFAS) in PPE. These “forever chemicals” have been linked to carcinogenic risks for 4 of the top 8 cancers that are detected more commonly in firefighters.

“Even though PFAS are widely used in many consumer, commercial, and industrial applications, ( they should be removed or limited where possible. The UV test regulation should be removed. It’s limiting innovation and preventing the fire service industry from purchasing PPE that doesn’t contain these chemicals.

“I am glad that in 2022 the IAFF (union’s national folks, to use your term) finally resolved to stop accepting funds from gear makers/manufacturers until they agree to not use the PFAS in PPE garments.”

Susan McKelvey, NFPA Communications Manager, sent the following via email:

“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.

“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.”