Another Pathway for Firefighter Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Firefighter Textiles
By Graham Peaslee, John T. Wilkinson, Sean R. McGuinness, Meghanne Tighe, Nicholas Caterisano, Seryeong Lee, Alec Gonzales, Matthew Roddy, Simon Mills, and Krystle Mitchell
June 23, 2020
Occupational exposure to aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) can lead to elevated concentrations of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighter blood sera. AFFF are also one exposure source of PFAS in the general population because of their environmental persistence and solubility in groundwater. Because of the documented adverse health effects of PFAS, the primary concern to date in the fire services has centered on repeated use and exposure to AFFF. In this work, an additional PFAS exposure source for firefighters is presented: PFAS that are shed from their protective clothing. Textiles used as firefighter turnout gear were found to have high levels of total fluorine (up to 2%), and individual PFAS were identified and measured on new and used firefighting turnout gear. Used gear showed lower levels of PFAS as well as an increased migration into untreated material. A dust measurement from a textile storage area also suggests direct loss of PFAS from the fluoropolymers in the textiles. Because PFAS that are shed from the textiles used in turnout gear are more mobile, they represent another viable exposure source for firefighters that warrants further study.