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California Legislature to Ban Cancer Causing Chemicals in Firefighter Gear

Assemblymember Haney’s AB 2408 will ban PFAS cancer causing “forever” chemicals from being used in firefighter gear

For immediate release:
  • Nate Allbee
  • (415) 756-0561

SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation aimed at banning the use of cancerous chemicals in firefighter gear, a move that would address the growing concern over the health and safety issues faced by firefighters. The proposed legislation, named the Firefighter Cancer Prevention Act, protects California firefighters from known cancer-causing chemicals called per-fluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — by banning them from firefighting equipment.

PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are man-made chemicals that scientists have found to be harmful to both human health and the environment. When PFAS are released into the environment they do not break down and are then absorbed into the human body through inhalation, drinking water, or through direct contact, and when accumulated in the body cause cancer.

California has recognized the danger of PFAS and has passed legislation to restrict their use – including legislation aimed at protecting firefighters. In 2020, the Legislature passed legislation that would phase out the use of certain fire-fighting foams with PFAS – namely the foam that is used to fight chemical and oil fires. This type of fire-fighting foam is currently being phased out in both municipal and industrial firefighting settings in favor of safe and effective non-PFAS alternatives. But firefighter gear has been found to contain significant levels of PFAS.

“Twenty years ago heart disease was the biggest threat to firefighter health. Today, cancer has replaced heart disease as the biggest killer of firefighters.” said Assemblymember Matt Haney. “Firefighters put their lives at risk every day on the front lines saving lives, responding to emergencies and taking care of the vulnerable. We have an obligation to ensure they are not exposed to cancer-causing chemicals from the very equipment designed to keep them safe.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) currently sets the safety and quality standards for this equipment. While manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) have largely been able to produce gear able to meet existing NFPA standards with safe alternatives to PFAS, one of the standards for the actual gear the fire fighters wear is a light degradation resistance test. This test uses ultraviolet (UV) light to test the moisture resistance of the gear to make sure it can hold up in the field. Currently, that test can only be passed by adding PFAS to the firefighting gear.

“In recent years, we have learned more about the risks posed by PFAS to firefighters through the very garments we wear each day that are supposed to keep us safe as we risk our lives in service to our communities. We are drawing a line in the sand right now and saying enough is enough. AB 2408 will protect firefighters in California by banning turnouts that contain these toxic chemicals and reduce our exposures to these cancer-causing chemicals.” said Brian K. Rice, President, California Professional Firefighters.

The upcoming revision of the NFPA standard proposes removing the UV light test, recognizing that it does not apply to the materials inside the fabric of their gear, because those materials are never exposed to direct sunlight.

"As Firefighters, we encounter dangers on the job every day, but we cannot continue to stand by while the protective gear that's supposed to keep us safe is manufactured with cancer-causing PFAS forever chemicals,” said Floyd Rollins, President, San Francisco Firefighters Local 798.

AB 2408 will ensure that the moment a safe alternative is made available for making fire fighter gear water resistant, PFAS will be banned from being used. Additionally, the bill directs the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to revise its regulations to meet the latest testing safety standard within a year after it has been updated.