Firefighters Face Increased Risk of Exposure to “Forever Chemicals” Firefighters put their lives on the line to save everyday Americans from fires, no matter how dangerous the structures are. Aside for the risk of burns and suffocation, firefighters also risk exposure to deadly toxins. Some of these “forever chemicals” can cause long-term damage to firefighters’ bodies.

Forever chemicals are poly-fluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals can accumulate in the human body and lead to life-threatening health conditions. These chemicals do not break down in our bodies or the environment. It is said that even newborn babies have PFAS in their blood.

Recently, a study was conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In the study, they compared the levels of nine forever chemicals in volunteer firefighters and the general population. It has been found that 95% of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies. However, firefighters have a heightened exposure to the forever chemicals because of their protective gear and other materials. Associate professor from Rutgers School of Public Health, Judith Graber, says “More than 95 percent of the U.S. population have these chemicals to some degree in their bodies, but firefighters have heightened exposure to PFAS through their protective gear and fire suppression foam and the burning materials they encounter that release particles, which can be inhaled or settle on gear and skin.”

Toxic poisoning and inhalation

Firefighters who have inhaled or been exposed to PFAS may suffer from a range of health conditions including cardiovascular diseases and cancers. The study found that firefighters are exposed to two chemicals which are perfluorododecanoic acid (PFDoA) and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA). The first chemical has been found in 80% of firefighters and has not commonly been found in the general public. It was also found that the number of years a firefighter was in service contributed to the level of chemicals found in their system.

Volunteer firefighters make up about 65% of the country’s fire service. They are always on call, and this means they may be exposed to these chemicals more than career firefighters. Since the main goal of a firefighter is to combat and extinguish a fire, the protective clothing and equipment were considered safe when facing a fire. However, this equipment may also be poisoning firefighters in the long term. Now that the research is out, there needs to be changes in gear and equipment. More research may be needed to determine the exact cause of exposure but our firefighters should be protected at all times.

The general public is at risk of injury from PFAS, too

Exposure to PFAS can be from everyday items like carpeting and electronics. These forever chemicals are found everywhere around us which is why so much of the population has experienced some sort of exposure. One of the most shocking findings of the study is that up to 110 million people may have been exposed to these PFAS through tainted drinking water found across 49 different states.

These PFAS can lead to various health conditions like:

  • Reproductive problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Kidney, liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Weight gain in children
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Weakened childhood immunity

Although contaminate drinking water is one way to be exposed, there are many others. The most common places that have PFAS are:

  • Personal care products and cosmetics
  • Clothes that are stain or water repellent
  • Teflon and nonstick cookware
  • Stain-resistant furniture and carpets
  • Wrappers for baked goods and fast food.

What is being done to protect people from harm?

The Environmental Protection Agency has not done nearly enough to combat PFAS contamination. They have not set a legal limit for PFAS in tap water and have no plan in place to reduce exposure to PFAS. The Food and Drug Administration does not feel that PFAS is a concern, and so has done nothing to combat them.

Military sites have been known to have PFAS for decades, and are now working to rectify this grave error – yet the Pentagon has blocked the release of recommendations and reports on the topic. Congress, on the other hand, has stepped up and passed a bill to limit PFAS in drinking water and end the military’s use of PFAS. They have also considered firefighters and the bill has called to end the use of PFAS in firefighting foam.

Who is liable for PFAS exposure?

Determining liability is not simple, as there are a range of potentially liable parties and entities. Manufacturers of dangerous products are partly to blame, as are industrial facilities.

However, if a place knowingly exposes visitors to PFAS, you may be able to file a premises liability claim. Employees may be entitled to workers’ compensation if exposure leads to an illness. Bailey & Greer has experience handling water contamination claims, and can help you find the right path forward if you suffered an illness or injury related to PFAS exposure.

If you have been exposed to PFAS as a first responder, you have options. You should not be left with a lifetime of medical conditions for simply helping your community. Contact Bailey & Greer, PLLC today at 901-475-7434, or via our contact form to schedule a consultation in Memphis or Jackson.