Read the full article by Christian McPhate (Dallas Observer)
“The fire started late one night in December 1974.
Christmas was around the corner. Three-year-old Antonio Garcia, his 6-year-old brother Rudy and their 5-year-old sister Yolanda were asleep. Their parents, Rudy and Maria, had left them in the care of their grandmother while they went to get medicine from the pharmacy for Yolanda, who wasn’t feeling well. None of them realized the house was on fire until it was well on its way to becoming an inferno.
When she noticed the fire, Antonio’s grandmother rushed out of the house to a small converted garage where extended family were living. A nephew was able to rescue Antonio from the blaze. But then the fire escalated, preventing him from reaching Rudy and Yolanda, who was born with cerebral palsy and unable to walk.
By the time Dallas Fire Capt. Harold Minter and Dallas Fire-Rescue Officer Jimi Hendrix arrived on the scene, the parents had returned from the pharmacy. Maria told Minter and Hendrix that her two youngest children were trapped inside. She pointed to their bedrooms.
Minter and Hendrix had been working at Dallas Fire-Rescue since the late 1950s and 1960s, respectively. They had joined the department for similar reasons, for ‘something much more fulfilling to him,’ Hendrix’s family wrote in his June 8, 2022, obituary. They were dressed in their protective suits and oxygen masks, ready to fight the inferno.
What they didn’t realize is that their protective suits may have been slowly poisoning them.
Several lawsuits have been filed by firefighters, an international firefighter association and two state attorneys general against the chemical companies that make the protective gear and firefighting foam. The products contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. The synthetic chemicals are widely used in products for their resistance to heat, water and oil and for their non-sticking properties. Studies suggest that some types of PFAS might be linked to cancer.
Since 2005, more than 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits have been filed, Bloomberg Law reported in May 2022. DuPont, Dynax Corp., 3M, Kiddle-Fenwell and National Foam Inc., are named in various suits. The list of chemical companies being sued continues to grow.
In February 2022, more than a dozen Massachusetts firefighters who serve in Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Worcester and Norwood filed a lawsuit against DuPont, 3M, AGC Chemicals Americas Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment and 19 other companies for using the ‘forever chemicals’ in their firefighter gear and foam ‘when those companies have long known of the dangers of that class of chemicals,’ according to a Feb. 2022 Boston Globe report.
As the Globe reported, the 15 firefighters didn’t know of the presence of PFAS in their gear until blood tests revealed high levels of PFAS in their systems in December 2021, the same month that DuPont planned to phase out buying fire-fighting foam made with PFAS chemicals.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office sued DuPont and 13 companies in May 2022 for failing to include a product warning on the firefighting foam that includes PFOA, a common type of PFAS that include chemicals such as perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classifies PFOA as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.’ It’s known to cause testicular and kidney cancer, according to a March 21 report by the American Cancer Society.
‘DuPont subsequently found that PFOA is ‘toxic’ and that ‘continued exposure is not tolerable,’ but did not disclose this to the public or to the United States Environmental Protection Agency,’ Florida said in the filing.
Daniel Turner, a spokesperson for DuPont, said there is a difference between operations of DuPont de Nemours and legacy E.I. du Pont de Nemours (EID) operations from decades ago. EID spun off its chemicals businesses to the Chemours Co., Turner said. In 2017, a merger between Dow Chemical Co. and EID grouped the remaining product lines, leading to the creation of three new companies two years later. EID started doing business as Corteva Agriscience, an agriculture business that includes the former agriculture businesses of the Dow Chemical Co. Then there’s Dow, one of the largest chemical producers in the world.
DuPont de Nemours, Turner said, inherited the specialty products manufacturing assets of both EID and Dow.
‘To implicate DuPont de Nemours in these past issues ignores this corporate evolution, and the movement of product lines and personnel that now exist with entirely different companies,’ Turner wrote in an Aug. 23 email. ‘DuPont de Nemours has never manufactured PFOA, PFOS or firefighting foam. While we don’t comment on litigation matters, we believe these complaints are without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.’
In 1971, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) created standards for firefighters’ personal protective equipment. Their turnout gear, for example, consists of three layers: an outer shell that could withstand temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit for about five minutes, a middle layer that acted as a moisture barrier to keep water out and an inner layer that protected against convection, conduction and radiation heat transfers, according to a June 16, 2008, report by Fire Engineering magazine.
PFAS chemicals provide the fire resistance the coat needs. Jim McDade, a firefighter and president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association, said. PFAS are used in the moisture barrier between the other two layers, but they’ve also been detected in the other layers of the coat, according to the University of California, Berkley’s Greener Solutions report ‘Replacing PFAS in Firefighter Turnout Gear.’
Since the 1940s, PFAS chemicals, which are man-made, have been used in consumer products around the world. Nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, carpets, some cosmetics and firefighting products that resist grease, oil and water have included PFAS chemicals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that during their production and use, PFAS chemicals can migrate into the air, soil and water. Most don’t break down chemically and remain in the environment. They’ve been found in human and animal blood all over the world.
PFAS are also at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment, the ATSDR reports. ‘Some PFAS can build up in people and animals with repeated exposure over time.’
PFAS chemicals, also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ linger in the body for decades and have been linked to a dozen different types of cancers that affect the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, liver, pancreas, prostate, rectum, testicles and thyroid. They can also lead to leukemia and lymphoma. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) found that cancer caused 66% of the career firefighters’ line-of-duty deaths between 2002 and 2019.
In March, the IAFF, which represents 334,000 members, filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association for its role, according to the IAFF, in imposing a testing standard ‘that effectively requires the use of PFAS in firefighter protective gear.’
The IAFF claims that Section 8.62 of ‘Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting’ necessitates the use of PFAS in the middle moisture barrier to satisfy the ultraviolet light degradation test because the time of exposure to xenon-sourced UV light, which tests the fire resistance, ‘was deliberately chosen.’ They argue that a shorter exposure time would allow other materials to pass, but a longer exposure time does not, according to the March 16 lawsuit.
‘The very gear designed to protect firefighters, to keep us safe, is killing us,’ IAFF President Edward Kelly said in a March 16 press release. ‘Standard 1971 needlessly requires the use of PFAS in firefighter gear.’
According to the group of three litigation firms that make up PFAS Law Firms, representing IAFF in the lawsuit, nearly 75% of deaths among firefighters involved occupational cancer.
‘Three of every four names added to the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall in 2022 died of occupational cancer,’ the PFAS Law Firms claimed on their website. ‘Firefighters battling cancer, in remission from cancer, and the families of those on the Memorial Wall deserve increased support — which is exactly what the assembled PFAS legal team will strive to provide.’
Tim Burn, the press secretary for the IAFF, said that the organization sent a memo to its 3,500 local fire-rescue affiliates, including Dallas, and encouraged members ‘to reduce their exposure to PFAS by limiting the use of turnout gear only to emergency responses where its protection is a necessity.’
‘Wearing all PPE and self-contained breathing apparatuses during firefighting, overhaul, and working in smoke remains the best first line of defense to protect from fireground contaminants until PFAS-free alternatives are available,’ according to the Aug. 23, 2022, memo from the IAFF and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association.
‘We have to fight whenever we have an inactive person who is diagnosed with cancer,’ said Dallas Fire Fighter Association’s McDade. ‘We have to get the city to declare it as an on-duty injury, and every time we have to fight.
‘As for a retiree, it’s a bigger battle.’” …