Kathy Crosby-Bell established the ‘Last Call Foundation Honoring FireFighter Michael Kennedy’ after the loss of her 33 year old son, Michael, in the March 26, 2014 ‘Back Bay Fire’ in Boston. Kathy is a fixture in the fire service community as an outspoken advocate for firefighters cancer prevention, NFPA involvement, and has established initiatives in projects ranging from providing extractor machines for firehouses to patent pending ‘burn-proof’ fire-hose.
She didn’t hesitate to immerse herself and her organization in this issue.
With LCF’s funding, we were able to establish the baseline project for Professor Graham Peaslee of Notre Dame.
LCF’s initial grant of $20,000.xx would provide the commercial testing required to confirm the PFAS compounds used in a range of twenty years worth of turnout gear.
‘The Last Call Foundation Committee to Research Chemicals used in Turnout Gear, Then and Now’ was formed with the mission to To research, evaluate, and provide laboratory tests of chemical coatings in firefighter turnout gear and use that newly acquired information and data to educate and advocate for firefighter health and safety whether through educational materials, legislative lobbying, and/or influencing industry standards
Purpose: To test chemical coatings in fire gear. To provide organization and responsible information dissemination for all data received and processed through the committee. To organize a strategy to ensure maximum level of education and advocacy. To improve firefighter health and wellness.
Meet the committee :
Discovering the ‘Chemical Additives’ aka Coatings in your Turnout Gear
Last Call Foundation Honoring Firefighter Michael Kennedy
Paul and I first met Kathy after reaching out to her upon the death of Michael. Our friend, served with Michael in the Marines. Our son is a Marine.We met Kathy for lunch at Florian Hall in Boston. While there I had brought Kathy a little gift, a US Marine bracelet. She was moved as she had wanted to keep the current MoM (mom of Marine) bracelet safe but didn't want to put it away as it was from Michael. I guess we both though that was a good omen. We couldn't have known three or so years ago our paths would lead to this project. We can think of no other organization we'd wish to take up the cause of PFAS in the fire service, and in particular, as a chemical additive to the turnout gear used by all firefighters; career, volunteer, military, wildland.
Graham Peaslee, Professor of Physics at Notre Dame University,Indiana, will begin the process of testing 'new, never-worn gear' AND 'soiled' or contaminated PPE of similar year for PFAS content. His work in this issue began in 2017 when the grass roots efforts of our group secured a set of 'New, never-worn, 2004 structural turnout gear via our acquaintance Jeremy Henthorn, Hazmat Specialist out of North Carolina who secured the PPE when we put out the call on our Facebook page. Graham is one of the 15 scientists and researchers we have been reaching out to regularly in efforts to gain insight and knowledge about the chemicals used in PPE. We could fill an entire page with Graham's work. He is remarkable to say the least.If you took a moment to hear his Ted Talk you would know why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEHuGO0ksr0 Graham's professional bio on Notre Dame's directory: https://physics.nd.edu/people/faculty/graham-peaslee/ See also: http://www.wndu.com/content/news/Building-a-nuclear-physics-accelerator-at-Notre-Dame-405969075.html We asked for help in finding a testing lab for the purpose of determining if there was PFOA in the gear. Graham reached back with the offer that he would test for fluorine content. If the PPE was positive for fluorine content the next step would be to test for specific PFCs. Not all PFCs are toxic, but we were specifically looking at PFOA. And specifically looking at the amounts used. He instructed if there was no fluorine, there would be no PFOA. Graham tested the gear and the fluorine content came back so high it had to be measured in volume, not the usual ppb or ppm. One would think this would be a easy-to-identify matter. It is not. The turnout gear manufacturers consider this information 'proprietary' and will not disclose the chemicals or the amounts. In January of 2018, Professor Peaslee did provide us with those amounts:Please see link here to Station Pride's article "Fire Gear Laboratory Test Results", https://station-pride.com/2018/02/18/fire-gear-laboratory-test-results/ What we didn't understand then, was just how high these numbers are. Since the newly released (June 2018) ATSDR PFAS Study, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp200.pdfwe realize that just the fraction of the potential of PFOA that is in this set of 2004 gear, is 14,000 times the MRL. Professor Peaslee puts that into context this way for us: "Yes, it means that the methanol wipe of the turnout gear really is ~14,000 times higher than the drinking water limits.... part of that will be because the general population drinks a lot of water every day and they want the total exposure to be low and ingestion (from drinking) is a direct path into the body where these things accumulate. The level is that low because it isbased on how quickly these things excrete from teh humna body, and they don't come out fast." "Under normal wear and tear we are not sure how much PFAS comes off turnout gear...we are going to try to measure that soon...but if it made its way into drinking water at anywhere near the rate we saw with a methanol wipe, that would contaminate lots of drinking water. This has real implications for end-of-life disposal of the turn out gear...but because we don't know whether these chemicals have any dermal sorption capability, we don't know whether it poses a risk to the wearer simply by skin contact. Even a little dermal absorption could be a bad thing...but we just don't know yet." I'd like to introduce you to the other members of the project that have come together in a quite fantastic way to verify the chemicals and amounts
Please meet, Firefighter Ryan Riley, Health and Safety Officer of Salem MA Fire Department: Ryan reached out to us in April of last year. He has worked very hard to contact manufacturers to ask them directly for the chemicals used in turnout gear and station wear. The companies were unwilling to comply.
Ryan has been collecting used, out of service gear to match up with same year and fabric of new, never worn gear. He’s had the support of his officers for this as well.
Ryan Riley. I've been a Salem Massachusetts fire fighter for the last 4 years. But I've been in the fire service since I was very young, my grandfather was a fire fighter in Salem. I became the Health and Safety officer of the department after I learned my grandfather was diagnosed for the second time with prostate cancer. I made it my mission to seek out, identify, and learn as much information as Icould about why cancer is such a pandemic for the fire service. I spent countless hours compiling, researching, and immersing myself in the PFOA discussion. I began to question everything, I started sending inquiries and made phone calls to the gear manufacturers about coatings and chemicaladditives that have been utilized. I've been redirected, pushed aside and given the run around by each manufacturercontacted, none taking responsibility for anything. I became a reference source for other fire fighters from around thecountry looking for material and answers on PFOAs and what could be done. I look to future to continue educatingothers and leaving the profession in a much better and safer place than when I started.
Long time supporter of the desire to determine what the chemicals are in our gear is Jeff Knobbe. Jeff is a Personal Protection Specialist in Northern California.
My name is Jeff Knobbe and I’m 47 years old. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area CA Like a lot of kids after high school I joined the US Army, attending Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO to become a 12B Combat Engineer. After completing Basic Training I attend the US Army Airborne Jump School at Fort Benning GA. For those who’ve attend jump school, yes I did get my blood wings.
My first duty station was Wildflecken Germany in Feb. 1990. In the latter part Dec. 1990 our unit go the call, you’ll be deploying to assist with Desert Shield. Our job was to join up with the 1st Armored Div. and be their EOD team during Desert Storm. Thankfully we did not suffer any losses in our unit. However, years later the government as finally acknowledged that a few hundred coalition forces were exposed to low levels of sarin gas, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/12/13/sarin-gas-gulf-war-veterans/1766835/ . To this day, I believe that some of my health issues stem from my exposure of this gas. Some have labeled this as Gulf War Syndrome.
Fast forward to 1993, after meeting my future Wife Michelle, I began taking fire science classes at the local community college at night after work. In 1998 I began working for Alameda County Fire Dept. as a Volunteer Fire Fighter. This year I celebrated 20th year with them.
In 2000 our lovely daughter Brooke was born. WOW how time flies, as Brooke is now in her first year of college.
In 2009 I began managing a well-established verified ISP in northern CA. Having a back ground in management for 12 years along with my 12 years of fire experience, it was a great fit for both of us. During my time there, I assisted local municipal FD, state FD, federal FD & DOD (Marines & Navy) with their NFPA 1851 compliance.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to put together a more robust, internal PPE program with in Alameda County Fire Department. In Jan. 2014 I was hired as the Dept. PPE Specialist and we launched the Alameda County PPE Maintenance Facility. Shortly thereafter, In Aug. 2015 we purchased our first flatbed sewing machine and began performing our own basic repairs. In the spring of 2017 we made the big leap, we decided to become a verified organization. By becoming a verified organization, we can now perform all of our own repairs in house.
I takes pride in my work and knowledge in the repairing of PPE. I’ve attended many classes to obtain certification for my continuing education in my specialized field.
I am most proud to have made Alameda County Fire Dept. 1 of only 4 NFPA 1851 3rd Party Verified Organizations in the country.
I reached out to Diane after reading the initial article put out by Station Pride titled, "The Real Cancer in Your Gear".
I’ve been a longtime supporter of the desire to determine what the chemicals are in our gear.
Jeff, Graham and Ryan have been working for some time to coordinate efforts to arrange by year, usage, and fabric blends of PPE to best suit this project. After following articles from Station Pride on this issue, our next team member reached out to the editors with an offer to assist in the research that was needed to further study both new and old turnout gear.
We sent word to Professor Peaslee that we were on the cusp of securing partial funding for the project that was already taking shape by Jeff, Ryan, and Graham. They were in fact already working to acquire new and old gear. Soiled and new condition. What was needed was funding for actual test procedures. That's where Mitchell's timely offer via the editors Ron Given and Jon Marr of Station Pride came to fruition. After a phone call and discussion with Mitch we were on our way to putting together a plan to choose a non profit here in Massachusetts that would establish a relationship with Professor Peaslee .
Mitchell Huner, Chicago Firefighter and owner of Fire Maul Tools offered his financial assistance. He had identified a way to secure a portion of the sale of each FireWrap™ Grip Kit directed to this project."
Read Mitch's Bio here: Mitchell Huner Owner/CEO Fire Maul Tools, Firefighter Chicago Fire Department Mitch has served in the fire service in several capacities since 2004 starting with Pittsfield Fire Department in Michigan. He has served in a multitude of department structures including contract positions in Iraq and Curacao as a Firefighter, Crash Rescue D/O, and Company Training Officer. He is currently assigned as a Firefighter/EMT for Chicago FD, serving the city’s south side on Truck 17. Through his experience as a FF, the inception of a heavy hitting purpose driven tool was created. The idea and testing grew to a U.S. Patented head design and overall blade system, The Fire Maul®! Fire Maul Tools was born and the Fire Maul® has gone into service throughout the county. Improvements and innovations have led to the creation of a first of its kind permanent grip system, the patent pending FireWrap™ Grip. Featured on every Fire Maul® and now available as a kit for every fire service hand tool. The FireWrap™ Grip Kit is a system that not only provides an effective and much need permanent grip system for every firefighter and fire department, but also will be a major fundraiser for Fire Maul Tools non-profit efforts in the form of brotherhood support, firefighter foundations and cancer research. Cancer research is at forefront of the “#LifeGrips” “#GripsforaCause” movement with FireWrap™ Grip Kits. Fire Maul Tools is proud to announce our partnership with Last Call Foundation and the launch of an academic research project into our very own “protective gear” we wear every workday. Innovation has always led the way to new technologies and chemical formulations. The long-term effect is always an after thought, as long as it is “better”, “easier” and mostly “cost effective”! That last part being one of the biggest driving factors. The scary part is when those long-term effects are identified, but are ignored. Which very well could be at the cost of astronomical firefighter cancer rates, to the tune of over 60% of FF deaths attributed to cancer. It is our job to both identify and paint a very clear picture of what is in our gear and what the exact long-term effects could be. Fire Maul Tools will be donating upwards of 15% of every FireWrap™ Grip Kit purchase to this research effort. We are also setting an initial fundraising goal of $10,000 to help fund this research project! We are happy to be part of this project and look forward to providing real results that can pave the way for change!
Engineer and Environmentalist Geoff Daly ~
THE PROJECT: Graham Peaslee, Profess of Physics, at Notre Dame University, explains the project best:
There has been a big push recently from the EPA, and new information came out yesterday from on the toxicology of PFAS as a class in the form of a big review article (600+ pages) that basically says that there are now lots of associations in humans and animals between PFAS exposure and health issues - but many of the mechanisms are not known, and many of the exposure pathways are not known. I have attached it, because I am pretty sure Diane will read it - but don't feel obliged to do so! It just means that the toxicology is just starting to emerge about how widespread the issue is - in terms of human health. I have been studying consumer products and potential exposure pathways for these chemicals into humans for several years now, and one of the big concerns is what happens to PFAS materials at the end--of-life, because they will all end up in the drinking water eventually after the products go to a landfill...and that is what the EPA is concerned about now. In doing this work, however, I ran into people that are getting exposed occupationally that I hadn't considered before...including firefighters, flight attendants and even just government workers who do field work and are required to wear a uniform....that somebody has decided should be waterproof or stainproof.
I can tell relatively quickly that their clothing is treated with PFAS, without doing a $300 test, so I have done so, and the results are interesting...there is a lot more PFAS-treated clothing in the fire/police/ambulance service that one might expect. Diane's turnout gear was treated, and I got a friend to run the expensive test on it to determine which PFAS were involved, and it was the long-chain variety that has since been removed from market (ostensibly), but in my humble opinion the entire class of chemicals is going to end up causing human health problems. That is still an open question, however, and the chemical manufacturers are going to be adamant that the replacement chemicals are less toxic than the originals - but they can't prove that either.
As an academic lab, we have no particular "side" to take in this argument, but I am happy to help provide information and I am already convinced that firefighters are going to be the ones who are concerned about the results - not the chemical manufacturers. Thus, I am going to pursue this, because I think it is the right thing to do and as an academic lab, it will be difficult to stop me. To this end, I think an important study to do would be to see if any of these chemicals come off the textiles before the "end of life" of the garment? We know these chemicals are toxic, but as long as they stay on the clothing, then there is probably little concern to the wearer of the clothing. There is no significant dermal absorption of these PFAS known, so then the only concern would be after the turnout gear ended up in the landfill. However, the same chemicals are used on various carpet materials, and I have seen "stain resistance" wear off carpets with exposure to sunlight and wear and tear. My guess is that the polymeric weave of the fabric/textile is actually coming apart with mechanical wear, washing, or heat, or sunlight (UV exposure)...and some of the PFAS chemicals are being shed every day. If this is happening, then just having these clothes is a hazard to the wearer, and anybody around them who will eat/inhale some of their dust.
My thoughts go towards when firefighters keep turnout gear at home, or wash it themselves....if PFAS comes off, it will be in the environment for them (or their families) to get exposure. To study this, my proposal is to find samples to measure...sets of turnout gear that have been used, and compare them with sets of turnout gear that are new. It is possible to do a mechanical abrasion test or use an exposure chamber to simulate wear and tear quickly, but the easiest test is to check used gear compared to new gear and if there is no difference in fluorine levels, then not much is coming off. IF there is a significant difference with age/use, then where is that PFAS going, since the chemicals themselves never degrade?
I think any sort of study of this particular gear would be publishable...at the very least in a trade magazine for firefighters, but if it turns out to be an issue of shedding PFAS into the surroundings, I think it could go into a peer-reviewed journal that has an even wider readership, and then referenced by trade magazines and newspapers that would communicate it to the world. The publication costs are minimal and I would cover those anyway. I am also in a position to donate significant analysis time on my instrument here - because we are not at full capacity, and all I need is a student to run the samples, and it doesn't cost me money directly for the analysis. If I do an analysis for somebody, each sample costs me about $25 to run, but I could run several hundred samples at my discretion to put into a publication, and I don't need money for that. If the comparison took more samples, it might be nice to fund a student to take ownership of the project so he/she could collect/inventory samples, prepare for analysis and run samples, and then analyze data. An undergrad would bring a lot of speed to the project just by being engaged for a summer on it. That might cost $5k next summer if we got there, but I also have some resources that I could use towards that and some very good students that will also do it because they care, so I wouldn't put that as a priority for funding.
The bottleneck as I see it will be two fold: Getting the samples, and getting enough of them to show trends...and then confirming the quick tests I can provide with a full analytical lab test on a few samples to prove that what I see in terms of fluorine is matched with the actual PFAS of concern.
To this end, I would propose that if you had any funds to allocate to this project, we put it towards purchasing, or mailing or paying people to collect turnout gear - maybe the used gear going out of service is free, but buying some unused gear (especially if it were vintage unused gear). Maybe you could find a volunteer to contact firefighters for gear that had a known lifetime, or exists in an unused state and then pay them to collect samples. I don't need much sample to test - my tests are non-destructive and require just postage-stamp-size pieces - but to do the full test would be destructive and require more like a 6"x6" swatch. Cutting holes in active gear to send to me probably won't work, so that is where I think some funding my really help. We could conceivably buy new gear and wash half of it 50 times to see if there is a difference...any sort of idea like this might work. If we continue to talk with the group on this email, and think of other sources of gear as well, I am sure there will be a way to collect samples....but a few thousand dollars of purchasing power might be wonderful there, because volunteers rarely have that type of funding to accompany their donated time.
The second piece I can imagine would be after we do the study, and we see a trend. I hope sincerely that it is one where no PFAS ever comes off the garments, but I am afraid it may be much more alarming...if we see the total fluorine levels going down with time/use then we could estimate how much PFAS is getting out...but any journal publication will require that we prove what kind of PFAS it is. So while I can test a couple hundred samples easily - and at no cost for this study, we will want to take a sub-set - maybe 6 -10 samples and run a full PFAS analysis on them through a commercial lab. The commercial lab costs are at least $300 apiece for each sample...so there is an external cost that is not as easy for me to manage without support from a grant. If there is no leakage from the turnout gear, it won't be necessary to do this, but if PFAS is coming off, we'd have to pay to show some of it is the PFAS of concern (even though all of them are probably concerning). So that is my idea for funding...if we could work as a team to find material to test, I would be happy to provide the student and instrument time to test them all and find the results for total fluorine content. Then when we see the results, we can decide where to publish, how many garments we need to test to prove our point, and which fraction need complete analysis. If we can find some modest funding for a volunteer out there to help collect or purchase gear that would be a great start. I think the analysis will literally take just a week or two after the samples are in house with my technique - but I can imagine several months to collect all the samples...and they will trickle in over time. Then we can decide if we want to do full PFAS analysis on some subset, or do more studies of something related we find next year. Happy to talk about it more - and even schedule a phone call/conference call if people want. I have no problems releasing the information about doing an independent study - especially if that may help find volunteers or donated gear, and I would be happy to consider other studies as well...but this is what I have been starting with.
You may wonder, why is this issue in the hands of such an eclectic group? Well, in a nutshell, no one wants the toxic potato. You'd have to understand, the manufacturers of our gear are immersed in every aspect of fire fighter cancer research. The discussion of the chemical additives in our gear however has never come up.The words 'water repellent coatings' sound harmless enough. But we really have no idea what chemicals and amounts are used in the coatings. I'm Diane Cotter, my husband Paul was diagnosed with cancer in the 28 year of his career on the Worcester Fire Department.On September 17th, 2014 he was promoted to Lieutenant. October 19, 2014 his career was over. Prior to this issue I was enjoying early retirement, I have worked as a waitress, customer service rep and a hairdresser.
The Station Pride article The Real Cancer in Your Gear’ will tell you how this rabbit hole was opened. https://station-pride.com/2017/03/28/the-real-cancer-in-your-gear/
We have two grown children, our daughter is a social worker in Worcester County, and our son is a US Marine. Paul was loving life as a firefighter. He loved going to work every day of his life. Firefighter cancer is as common a discussion in the fire service as talking about what they will cook for dinner. The discussion of products of combustion, toxic smoke, off gassing, wash you hood Sunday, and of course washing and drying gear with professional extractors. What we didn't know, was that in the process of manufacturing turnout gear, that a family of chemicals called PFAS or PFC's would degrade to form PFOA or other 'long-chain' fluoro carbons. There are no regulations requiring manufacturers to disclose the amounts of chemicals used in textile treatments.This information is considered 'CBI' Confidential Business Information. And, because of the FEMSA 'Liability Bill' they are not required to put in a warning label of any kind. Our hope is with Professor Peaslees paper, the fire service can then determine how the chemical additives interact with a fire fighter before, during, and after a fire, reinforce best practices for donning/doffing, begin dust studies and remediation in fire stations as needed, test water wells for contamination (as was seen October 2017 in New Hampshire when 6 of 7 fire station water wells tested elevated for PFAS. This letter was sent to ever fire station in New Hampshire advising them to test their water wells: https://www4.des.state.nh.us/nh-pfas-investigation/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fire_Department_H20Sample.pdf As well as, August 2018, the state of Michigan declared 1487 fire stations 'potential PFAS contamination sites' : https://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/page/michigans_water_crisis_pfas.html Environmental time bombs Meanwhile, emergency responders are one serious plane crash, gasoline tanker truck fire or equipment malfunction away from creating another PFAS plume.The PFAS-laden AFFF foam is an environmental time bomb waiting to go off at airports, bases and in municipal fire departments large and small.
It has always been assumed that PPE contamination begins at an incident. We now believe that is not the case. Testing multiple sets over multiple years will give us more information that will benefit both the firefighter the environment.
Paul and I wish to thank the science community that has been supporting us from the start with the random questions and endless emails we’ve sent them. Special thanks to Mindi Messmer, Courtney Carignan, Philippe Grandjean, Susan Shaw, Jeff Burgess, Kenny Fent, Alberto Caban-Martinez, Emily Sparer, Holly Davies, Katie Pelch, From the UK, Dr Roger Klein, and from Okinawa, Masami Mel Kawamura for your support and availability ~