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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of man-made chemical compounds found in a wide range of consumer products such as nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints and cleaning products.
Two PFAS compounds, perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), may be present in firefighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) solutions.
Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. Long-term exposure to PFAS/PFOA/PFOS, in high concentrations, causes a buildup in the body. This buildup may have negative health effects like a risk of thyroid disease and testicular, kidney and bladder cancers.
Protection against exposure
PFAS/PFOA/PFOS may be orally ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through exposure in the atmosphere. Personnel at departments that use firefighting AFFFs with PFAS/PFOA/PFOS should practice the following controls to stay safe from exposure:
If you believe that you were exposed
See your occupational healthcare provider and document the PFAS/PFOA/PFOS exposure. Tell your provider about any concerns during your annual medical exam.
The University of Arizona has received a $1.5 million research grant to study the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam and gear on firefighter health.
PFAS have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, respiratory disease and other health conditions in the general population, but the effects of work-related exposure on firefighters have not been widely studied.
"Firefighters need more information to develop best-practice recommendations to reduce their exposure to PFAS and prevent the associated toxic effects," said UArizona Associate Dean of Research Dr. Jeffrey Burgess, who is a professor at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the lead researcher on the project.
The funds for the research come from FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Burgess has previously studied firefighters' cancer risk from fireground toxin exposures.
The main objective of the study will be to identify the key PFAS exposure routes and compare different practices for limiting exposure at airport fire departments that use firefighting foam to battle aircraft fires. Read more