Disposition of Fluorine on New Firefighter Turnout Gear

By Derek J Muensterman, Ivan A Titaley, Graham F Peaslee, Leah D Minc, Liliana Cahuas, Alix E Rodowa, Yuki Horiuchi, Shogo Yamane, Thierry N J Fouquet, John C Kissel, Courtney C Carignan, and Jennifer A Field
Environ Sci Technol
January 10, 2022
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c06322

Firefighter turnout gear is essential for reducing occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals during training and fire events. Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are observed in firefighter serum, and possible occupational sources include the air and dust of fires, aqueous film-forming foam, and turnout gear. Limited data exist for nonvolatile and volatile PFASs on firefighter turnout gear and the disposition of fluorine on the individual layers of turnout gear. Further implications for exposure to fluorine on turnout gear are not well understood. Three unused turnout garments purchased in 2019 and one purchased in 2008, were analyzed for 50 nonvolatile and 15 volatile PFASs by liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-qTOF-MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), respectively. Particle-induced gamma ray emission (PIGE), a surface technique, and instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), a bulk technique, were used to measure total fluorine. Bulk characterization of the layers by pyrolysis-GC/MS (py-GC/MS) was used to differentiate fluoropolymer (e.g., PTFE) films from textile layers finished with side-chain polymers. The outer layer, moisture barrier, and thermal layers of the turnout gear all yielded measured concentrations of volatile PFASs that exceeded nonvolatile PFAS concentrations, but the summed molar concentrations made up only a small fraction of total fluorine (0.0016-6.7%). Moisture barrier layers comprised a PTFE film, as determined by py-GC-MS, and gave the highest individual nonvolatile (0.159 mg F/kg) and volatile PFAS (20.7 mg F/kg) as well as total fluorine (122,000 mg F/kg) concentrations. Outer and thermal layers comprised aromatic polyamide-based fibers (aramid) treated with side-chain fluoropolymers and had lower levels of individual nonvolatile and volatile PFASs. Equal concentrations of total fluorine by both PIGE and INAA on the outer and thermal layers is consistent with treatment with a side-chain fluoropolymer coating. New turnout gear should be examined as a potential source of firefighter occupational exposure to nonvolatile and volatile PFASs in future assessments.

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