Shaheen Statement on Findings in New Firefighter Turnout Gear PFAS Report She Commissioned in FY21 NDAA
A senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, Shaheen secured the authorization and funding of the study in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and government funding legislation to inform steps to address concerns regarding firefighters’ occupational exposure to PFAS chemicals through their PPE.
Shaheen-led provision was based on her standalone bipartisan legislation with former Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO).
(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, issued the following statement on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) newly released report on the comprehensive study of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by firefighters to determine the identity and concentration of per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as well as firefighters’ risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals in their gear. Shaheen secured the authorization and funding of the study in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and government funding legislation to inform steps that can be taken to address concerns regarding firefighters’ occupational exposure to PFAS chemicals through their turnout gear. The provision that established the study is based on her standalone bill – the Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters Act.
The PFAS report is available here.
“These findings are a helpful tool in our comprehensive strategy to combat PFAS exposure because they can better inform the next steps we need to take to ensure the long-term health of our firefighters, who rely on their turnout gear to keep them safe on the job,” said Shaheen. “That’s why I commissioned this study – to deliver long-awaited answers to firefighters and their loved ones, and to gather the information we need to provide the safest personal protective equipment possible. I appreciate the dedication of NIST researchers for compiling this informative data. Now we must look at how to address gear containing PFAS and phase it out with alternatives that will keep first responders safe in the short-term and long-term. I’ll keep investing in PFAS research to guide our federal response, and for the resources we need to prevent exposure and remediate contamination wherever it occurs.”
According to NIST, the results revealed a number of important findings:
- The amount of PFAS present varies widely between manufacturers and layers, with the highest PFAS concentrations observed in the outermost two.
- The results of the study suggest that selecting optimal combinations of fabrics for each layer could significantly reduce the amount of PFAS present in turnout gear.
- The research team collected 20 brand-new textile samples, each used for one of the three layers of turnout gear — the outer shell, the moisture barrier and the thermal liner. All meet a standard published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which specifies requirements for resisting heat, water and other hazards.
- The team found the least amount of PFAS in the layer closest to firefighters’ skin, the thermal lining, which may correspond to water repellency being a lower priority for this layer than the other two.
- At the other end of the spectrum, the moisture barrier and the outer shell contained PFAS concentrations up to 400 times higher, though those numbers varied widely from fabric to fabric.
- Two of the outer shell textiles they tested had not been treated with a water repellant coating. Those samples contained far less PFAS than other outer shell layers, while the treated outer shell fabric consistently contained the greatest amounts of PFAS.
While conducting the study, NIST researchers relied heavily on existing PFAS standards — highly accurate and pure PFAS samples of a known concentration — to ensure that the methods they used to measure PFAS levels produced accurate results. The team also employed several measurement techniques in parallel to further ensure their findings could be trusted. Researchers targeted 53 PFAS within 20 textiles used to fabricate the different layers of turnout gear. They identified and quantified the concentrations of 26 different PFAS, uncovering some important differences among the samples.
Senator Shaheen has long led action in the U.S. Senate to research, prevent and remediate PFAS exposure. She has also specifically worked on efforts to mitigate exposure for first responders, who are often times occupationally more likely to be exposed to the dangerous substances. In the fiscal year 2023 NDAA, Shaheen added an amendment requesting the Department of Defense (DOD) to prohibit DOD from purchasing PFAS-laden firefighting turnout gear after October 1, 2026. This follows Shaheen-led efforts to expand blood testing and treatment for firefighters exposed to PFAS and a similar amendment she secured to ban the use of PFAS-laden firefighting foam in the FY 2020 NDAA.