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Firefighter union sues Mass. group over toxic chemicals in protective gear

International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly speaks outside Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham. (Gabrielle Emanuel/WBUR)
International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly speaks outside Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham. (Gabrielle Emanuel/WBUR)

The International Association of Fire Fighters is suing the Massachusetts-based group that sets national standards for firefighters' protective gear. The union contends that the National Fire Protection Association colluded with industry to set its guidelines so that gear has to contain toxic PFAS chemicals to meet the voluntary standards.

PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” are linked to a long list of health concerns, including certain types of cancer, increased cholesterol and decreased response to childhood vaccinations. These chemicals are used in a wide variety of consumer products but are found at particularly high concentrations in firefighters' gear.

“We are exposing ourselves to carcinogens needlessly day-in and day-out because of the standard that was set by the NFPA, who was so heavily influenced by the industry that stands to profit off the standard. And that's wrong,” said Edward Kelly, general president of the IAFF, speaking outside the Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham on Thursday.

Last year, nearly 75% of the firefighters who passed away died of job-related cancer, Kelly said. While acknowledging that PFAS is not the only hazardous substance firefighters are exposed to, he said this toxic chemical is unnecessary and its use can be limited.

The lawsuit claims that the NFPA is engaged in an ongoing conspiracy with companies, including gear manufacturers like Lion and Gore, and that it profits off the standards.

The NFPA, based in Quincy, is a nonprofit organization that publishes voluntary standards. The guidelines are widely used and often shape how equipment like firefighter gear is manufactured. Some of its standards are developed through committees that include volunteer representation from manufacturers, the fire service, testing labs, experts and others.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the NFPA said, “we have not yet been served with this complaint so we can’t comment on it.”

Related:

Gabrielle Emanuel Twitter Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.

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