Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and total fluorine in fire station dust

By Anna S Young, Emily H Sparer-Fine, Heidi M Pickard, Elsie M Sunderland, Graham F Peaslee, and Joseph G Allen
J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol
February 8, 2021
DOI: 10.1038/s41370-021-00288-7

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of over 4700 fluorinated compounds used in industry and consumer products. Studies have highlighted the use of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) as an exposure source for firefighters, but little is known about PFAS occurrence inside fire stations, where firefighters spend most of their shifts. In this study, we aimed to characterize PFAS concentrations and sources inside fire stations. We measured 24 PFAS (using LC-MS/MS) and total fluorine (using particle-induced gamma ray emission) in dust from multiple rooms of 15 Massachusetts stations, many of which (60%) no longer use PFAS-containing AFFF at all and the rest of which only use it very rarely. Compared to station living rooms, turnout gear locker rooms had higher dust levels of total fluorine (p < 0.0001) and three PFAS: perfluorohexanoate (PFHxA), perfluoroheptanoate (PFHpA), and perfluorodecanoate (PFDoDA) (p < 0.05). These PFAS were also found on six wipes of station turnout gear. By contrast, the dominant PFAS in living rooms was N-ethyl perfluorooctane sulfonamidoacetic acid (N-MeFOSAA), a precursor to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that still persists despite phase-outs almost two decades ago. The Σ PFAS accounted for less than 2% of fluorine in dust (n = 39), suggesting the potential presence of unknown PFAS. Turnout gear may be an important PFAS source in stations due to intentional additives and/or contamination from firefighting activities.

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