Read the full article by Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times)
“Every day at work for 15 years, Sean Mitchell, a captain in the Nantucket Fire Department, has put on the bulky suit that protects him from the heat and flames he faces on the job. But last year, he and his team came across unsettling research: Toxic chemicals on the very equipment meant to protect their lives could instead be making them gravely ill.
This week, Captain Mitchell and other members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the nation’s largest firefighters’ union, are demanding that union officials take action. They want independent tests of PFAS, the chemicals in their gear, and for the union to rid itself of sponsorships from equipment makers and the chemical industry. In the next few days, delegates representing the union’s more than 300,000 members are expected to vote on the measure — a first.
‘We’re exposed to these chemicals every day,’ Captain Mitchell said. ‘And the more I looked into it, the more it felt like the only people who were saying these chemicals were safe were the people who make it.’
The demands come as the safety of firefighters has become an urgent concern amid the worsening effects of climate change, which bring rising temperatures that prime the nation for increasingly devastating fires. In October, two dozen firefighters in California — where a record 4.2 million acres burned across the state last year — filed suit against 3M, Chemours, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and other manufacturers, claiming that the companies for decades knowingly made and sold firefighting equipment loaded with toxic chemicals without warning of the chemicals’ risks.
‘Firefighting is a dangerous occupation, and we don’t want our firefighters to burn up. They need that protection,’ said Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. ‘But we now know that PFAS is in their gear, and it doesn’t stay in their gear.’
‘A lot of it migrates out and gets into the air that they’re breathing, and it’s on their hands, and their bodies,’ Dr. Birnbaum added. ‘If they take their gear home to wash, they’re bringing PFAS back to their families…'”