PFAS and Fire Fighter Turnout Gear

PFAS are a category of man-made chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

PFAS is used in fire fighter turnout gear and poses an unnecessary occupational threat. As a result, in August 2022, the IAFF and the Metro Chiefs joined forces to alert members to the adverse health risks posed by PFAS in turnout gear, draw attention to the need for PFAS-free turnout gear, and recommend precautionary steps for members and departments until next-generation gear can be developed and put in use.


The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) have come together to notify members of the adverse health risks from fire fighter turnout gear.

Recent studies have shown that all three layers of fire fighter turnout gear contain Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of fluorinated chemicals known as “forever chemicals” which have been linked to cancer and other serious health effects.¹,² These studies highlight the risks associated with the materials and finishes used in turnout gear even before it is exposed to its first fire.

Identifying safe and effective PFAS-free materials for turnout gear is a long and challenging process. Until PFAS is fully removed from turnout gear, the IAFF and Metro Chiefs are asking fire fighters to reduce exposure to PFAS in turnout gear by using the following precautions:

    • Turnout gear should NOT be taken into firehouse living areas.
    • When transporting gear in personal vehicles, it should be in a sealed container or bag, and preferably NOT transported in the passenger compartment.
    • Apparatus cabs should be cleaned regularly and after every fire.
    • Wash your hands after handling turnout gear.
    • Legacy turnout gear should be replaced as new PFAS-free technologies become available.
    • Do not wear turnout gear on responses where this level of protection is not necessary.*

The IAFF has been working with researchers, advocacy groups, industry stakeholders, and legislative leaders to help address this issue and remove harmful substances from protective equipment. The IAFF has also recently partnered with the American Cancer Society and hired its first ever Chief Medical Officer to expand cancer research.

Both the IAFF and Metro Chiefs are dedicated to removing PFAS chemicals from turnout gear. The joint efforts will take place before regulatory bodies and in continuing discussions with manufacturers in the critical initiative of eliminating PFAS “forever chemicals” from turnout gear.

The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association stand shoulder to shoulder in our combined efforts to rid occupational cancer from the fire service. The time has long passed for occupational cancer to be accepted as “part of the job.” You can do your part, and we urge you to take these steps to reduce your exposure.

We must raise our collective voices and diligently work toward a day when firefighting gear will not be a source of fire fighter illness.


*Wearing all PPE and SCBA during firefighting, overhaul, and while working in smoke is still the best first line of defense when it comes to limiting exposures to fireground contaminants. Following any exposure to the products of combustion, all PPE should be cleaned in accordance with NFPA 1851 to reduce cross-contamination and further exposure.

References are included under Resources

What are PFAS?

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large group of more than 10,000 synthetic chemicals not found in nature. Their strong, long-lasting carbon-fluorine bonds make them difficult to degrade, hence PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS constitute a large family of fluorinated chemicals that are widely commercially used and, consequently, are now pervasive in the environment, i.e., in air, water, and soil. Toxicological studies have raised concerns regarding the bioaccumulative nature and health risks of PFAS. As a result, our understanding of PFAS and the risks they may pose are rapidly evolving.

Why does turnout gear contain PFAS?

PFAS are used as a durable water repellent (DWR) finish / coating applied to provide water and oil repellency in accordance with National Fire Protection Association’s 1971 Standards. It is a major component of the moisture barrier within turnout gear.

As of 2022, most manufacturers now offer PFAS-free DWRs, yet expanded-polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) moisture barriers still contain and emit PFAS. Section 8.62 of NFPA Standard 1971 requires a light degradation resistance test for “moisture barrier materials.” This specific requirement is preventing PFAS-free moisture barrier alternatives from coming to market.

What are the increased health risks from PFAS exposure?

Studies link PFAS exposure to the development of cancer, and other health effects related to: behavioral development, metabolism, and the circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, neurological, and reproductive systems.

What is IAFF doing to fix this?

Long before becoming IAFF General President, Edward A. Kelly took an early and brave stance in sounding the alarm on the connection between PFAS, cancer, and turnout gear. As General President, he has directed IAFF staff to prioritize the lives and livelihoods of members.

The IAFF is actively working through the NFPA Standards process to ensure that a pathway exists for PFAS-free alternatives to the current materials used in turnout gear.

The IAFF has and will continue to fund and support research opportunities allowing the union to better assess and mitigate health risks to fire fighters. In 2022, the IAFF hired its first Chief Medical Officer and a new Director of Science and Research. At the IAFF’s 56th Convention in August 2022, delegates adopted a resolution allocating an additional $500,000 for the sole purpose of supporting and conducting cancer-related research. Additionally, new partnerships with academic and research institutions are being established with the intention of collaboratively discovering new PFAS-free PPE.

The IAFF Government Affairs Department is advocating for both Congress and the Biden Administration to provide funds and other federal resources to develop next-generation, PFAS-free turnout gear. The IAFF also is supporting other PFAS-focused legislative initiatives including:

  • Protecting Firefighters from Adverse Substances Act (S. 231): This bill would direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop educational materials for fire fighters on reducing PFAS exposures, preventing environmental contamination from PFAS-laden foams, and increasing awareness of non-PFAS-laden alternatives.
  • PFAS Firefighter Protection Act (H.R. 7597/S. 4076): This bill would ban the manufacturing, importation, and distribution of PFAS-laden firefighting foam in the United States as well as prohibit all American airports from using PFAS-laden firefighting foams.
  • Federal Firefighter Fairness Act (H.R. 2499/S. 1116): This bill would establish automatic workers’ compensation benefits for federal fire fighters battling cancer. Given the link between PFAS and occupational cancer, it is critical that all fire fighters battling cancer maintain the benefits and support they have earned.

The IAFF will continue to provide information and updates on the situation, as well as advocate industry and government stakeholders on behalf of membership.

What are my options to prevent exposure to PFAS?

As outlined in the joint statement, the IAFF and Metro Chiefs recommend:

  • Turnout gear should NOT be taken into firehouse living areas.
  • When transporting gear in personal vehicles, it should be in a sealed container or bag, and preferably NOT transported in the passenger compartment.
  • Apparatus cabs should be cleaned regularly and after every fire.
  • Wash your hands after handling turnout gear.
  • Legacy turnout gear should be replaced as new PFAS-free technologies become available.
  • Do not wear turnout gear on responses where this level of protection is not necessary.*

The IAFF recommends all members document and report their exposures to PFAS through procedures in their respective fire departments and through personal documentation. In the event that a member develops an occupational illness related to PFAS, having appropriate documentation will be essential in demonstrating that the illness is job-connected. When developing this documentation, fire fighters should note all forms of exposure including turnout gear, use of PFAS-laden firefighting foam (both during training and active fire suppression operations) and working in stations where PFAS-laden firefighting foam is being stored.

Also, be conscious of possible non-occupational exposure sources through water/oil-resistant clothing, food packaging, Teflon® products, waxes and lubricants, water-proof make-up, and even dental floss.

If you engage in departmental or contractual negotiations for fire service purchase agreements and/or request for proposals, consider language that allows for an uninterrupted transition to PFAS-free items and/or product components, when they become available.

*Wearing all PPE and SCBA during firefighting, overhaul, and while working in smoke is still the best first line of defense when it comes to limiting exposures to fireground contaminants. Following any exposure to the products of combustion, all PPE should be cleaned in accordance with NFPA 1851 to reduce cross-contamination and further exposure.

What can be done at the Local level to reduce exposures?

Local as well as state/provincial health and safety and wellness/fitness committees should help spread the message of the PFAS Joint Statement, including the precautionary recommendations and encourage members not to use turnout gear other than for the specific hazards it is designed to protect us from. Information should also be sought from manufacturers about whether their products contain PFAS and/or fluorinated components, finishes, or coatings.

The IAFF Government Affairs Department has assisted several state affiliates in developing state-level legislation to ban PFAS-laden firefighting foams, require PFAS-awareness labels on new turnout gear, and limit fire fighters’ exposures to PFAS. Any affiliates interested in developing and promoting similar legislation in their states are encouraged to contact the Government Affairs Department for assistance.

Do we have a list of companies that are making next generation turnouts (PFAS-free)?

The supply chain involved in the construction of turnout gear starts with mills and suppliers and ends with manufacturers. There is currently no turnout gear which is PFAS-free on the market.

Most manufacturers are now offering PFAS-free DWRs for the outer shell (and in some instances, as a “sweat-wicking” option for thermal liners). However, we are aware of only one DWR which has been independently verified as fluorine-free, by the University of Notre Dame: PF Zero, made by Safety Components.

Are there any levels of PFAS in turnout gear that are considered acceptable?

No. There are over 10,000 types of PFAS, and to date, none have been proven completely safe. Those which are the most studied are either regulated or have advisories at levels as low as 0.004 parts per trillion, which means essentially zero. Turnout gear has been shown to have components containing PFAS far in excess of what has been established as acceptable for drinking water recommendations.  Use the Precautionary Principle, described below, wherever possible to minimize PFAS exposures.

What is the Precautionary Principle?

The Precautionary Principle is a scientific tenet which states that whenever there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to continue potentially harmful or lethal practices.

As scientists continue to study PFAS and its effects on the human body, it is appropriate to apply the Precautionary Principle in relation to the use of PFAS in turnout gear. Given what is available on the market today, the best way to institute this principle is to follow the recommendations in the IAFF / Metro Chiefs Joint Statement

Should additional precautions be taken regarding the practice of displaying turnout gear in various formats, mounted displays, hanging on the wall, etc.?

Aside from PFAS, all members should understand the risks due to fireground and other contaminants on used turnout gear. Laundering practices in accordance with NFPA 1851 remove some, but not all, chemicals and heavy metals deposited on turnout gear but do not remove PFAS. Members should follow the recommendations from the Joint Statement and utilize and store their turnout gear appropriately.

How should we handle testing of gear for PFAS?

We know that all turnout gear currently has PFAS. For new purchase agreements, verifiable third-party testing should be requested for all components/finishes/coatings used during the manufacturing process and on the completed product.

How do we interpret testing results as they may appear on the PFAS risk spectrum?

Any positive findings for PFAS through any method of testing should be considered a health risk.  Therefore, members should limit unnecessary exposure to their turnout gear and only use it for the specific hazards it is designed for.

Does the IAFF have any draft memoranda that could be sent to local administrations regarding this issue or the limiting of the use of current bunker gear?

The PFAS Joint Statement carries the support of the IAFF and the Metro Chiefs, and we recommend that all locals share it with their department administration. Our combined unity on this issue will allow for collaboration and consistent positions regarding best practices at the local level. Please keep this conversation going between locals and with department management so that safe use, handling, and storage practices are implemented.

Additional information may be found at:

Freedom to Choose: PFAS-Free PPE

Green Science Policy Institute

PFAS: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

PFAS Tox Database

Understand the Effects of Toxics (Environmental Working Group)

Safety Advisory references:

  1. Muensterman DJ, Titaley IA, Peaslee GF, Minc LD, Cahuas L, Rodowa AE, Horiuchi Y, Yamane S, Fouquet TNJ, Kissel JC, Carignan CC, Field JA. Disposition of Fluorine on New Firefighter Turnout Gear. Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Jan 18;56(2):974-983
  2. Peaslee, G. F.; Wilkinson, J. T.; McGuinness, S. R.; Tighe, M.; Caterisano, N.; Lee, S.; Gonzales, A.; Roddy, M.; Mills, S.; Mitchell, K. Another Pathway for Firefighter Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Firefighter Textiles. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2020, 7, 594−599.
  3. Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-explained
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html
  5. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/activities/assessments.html
  6. IAFF Position on PFAS: https://www.iaff.org/news/statement-from-iaff-general-president-edward-a-kelly-on-pfas-lawsuits

Members may use the form below to submit PFAS-related questions to IAFF staff. Your note will be routed to the appropriate department for review and response.