May 28, 2021 — America’s largest firefighter’s union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, faced an unprecedented movement in January 2021 as members demanded that the cancer-linked chemicals in their gear, PFAs, be tested independently and that their union cease sponsorships from those involved in the making of both PFAs and AFFF. Delegates representing the over 300,000 members of the union were expected to vote on the issues at hand in the coming days. Such a vote had never been held by the union before.
DuPont expressed that it was “disappointed” with those seeking to stop sponsorships and that its commitment to firefighting was “unwavering.” 3M had a similar stance, stating that it had “acted responsibility” on PFAS.
Though PFAs may appear to be a meager foe compared to the brutal situations firefighters must be prepared to face every day, statistics reveal just how dangerous a firefighter’s gear can be to them. Cancer has become the leading cause of death for firefighters in America within the last 30 years. In 2019, it caused 75 percent of active-duty firefighter deaths. Such tragic numbers can be explained by the studies undertaken by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: the institute found that firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of getting cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the United States population. Rates have not declined despite firefighters in the United States now using air packs comparable to scuba gear.
Firefighters’ new demands emerged with the heightened challenges they faced resulting from climate change and higher temperatures. Two dozen firefighters in California, home to some of the most devastating fires the United States has witnessed in the past year, filed suit against 3M, Chemours, E.I. du Pont de Nemours, and other manufacturers this past October 2020. The firefighters claimed that the companies knowingly manufactured and sold gear loaded with toxic chemicals without warning for decades.
References: Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Firefighters Battle an Unseen Hazard: Their Gear Could Be Toxic.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/01/26/climate/pfas-firefighter-safety.html.“Firefighter Resources, Cancer and Other Illnesses.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Aug. 2018, www.cdc.gov/niosh/firefighters/health.html.