Firefighters Union Battles NFPA on Cancer-Causing Bunker Gear
If you are a firefighter in California, you are probably familiar with The International Association of Fire Fighters. This labor organization in the United States and Canada represents paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services employees. The International Association of Fire Fighters was founded in 1918 and is associated with the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Canadian Labour Congress in Canada. It is made up of over 334,000 fire officers from the United States and Canada.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a worldwide self-funded nonprofit organization founded in 1896 that is dedicated to preventing death, injury, property damage, and economic loss caused by fire, electrical, and other hazards. However this year, the two organizations – both of which usually work hand-in-hand – are now at odds over firefighter safety.
The International Association of Fire Fighters filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) on March 16 centers around chemical compounds called “PFAS”, in what it terms “the next step in its fight to combat firefighter cancer.”
“Even when presented with independent science on the health and safety risks, the NFPA has refused to help save our lives,” IAFF General President Edward Kelly said, referring to the controversy surrounding firefighter exposure to PFAS.
What Are PFAS Chemicals?
PFASs are man-made compounds that were first discovered in the 1930s. PFASs are fluorinated substances that are known as “forever chemicals,” according to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (to which the United States is a signatory). PFAS chemicals do not degrade through organic processes or in the environment. Additionally, PFAS chemicals migrate through surface and ground water, as well as the atmosphere and wildlife, where they become concentrated within peoples’ bodies and are also passed to the fetus within the womb.
Many PFASs were used in goods and on materials in the mid-20th century due to their improved water resistance, such as Teflon or aqueous film forming foam.
Humans can be exposed to PFAS through inhalation (particles in the air), ingestion (eating contaminated meat, fish, or vegetables), or dermal exposure (contact with substances containing PFAS). PFOA and PFOS are the two most well-known and researched PFAS. The DSSTox toxicity database maintained by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes 14,735 distinct PFAS chemical compounds that are deemed toxic and dangerous to human health.
Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still manufactured elsewhere and imported into the country in numerous consumer products such as carpet and leather, apparel, textiles, packaging, coatings, rubber, plastics, and protective gear.
Firefighter Rights to Safe Protective Gear
Bunker jackets and pants are protective clothing worn by firefighters to protect them from heat, flames, and other hazards during firefighting operations. They are also known as turnout gear or structural firefighting gear.
Bunker jackets are typically made of a three-layer composite material consisting of an outer shell, a moisture barrier, and a thermal barrier. The outer shell is made of a durable and heat-resistant material such as Kevlar or Nomex, while the moisture barrier is a waterproof and breathable layer that keeps the firefighter dry. The thermal barrier provides insulation and protection from heat and flames.
The gear is designed to be comfortable and flexible enough for firefighters to move around freely while also providing maximum protection from heat and flames.
Certain components of fire fighter bunker gear must satisfy the Ultraviolet Light Degradation Test, according to Section No. 8.62 of the NFPA Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (Standard 1971). Turnout gear must be exposed to UV radiation for 40 hours without deterioration in order to pass this test.
Here’s where PFAS chemicals come in: Currently, PFASs are the only chemicals that can pass the test for that long.
PFAS compounds have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, immune system disorders, and reproductive issues. Firefighters are particularly at risk of exposure to PFAS because of their presence in bunker gear. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame examined 30 new and used bunker jackets and pants initially marketed, distributed, and sold in 2008. And six bunker gear manufacturers conducted tests between 2014 and 2017 and discovered high amounts of PFAS in bunker gear worn, used, or handled by fire fighters.
IAFF vs NFPA in Firefighter Safety Lawsuit
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is suing the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) over “PFAS” because they believe that the NFPA has not done enough to protect firefighters from the health risks associated with exposure to these chemicals.
The IAFF believes that the NFPA has not done enough to address the risks associated with PFAS exposure and that the organization should be doing more to ensure that firefighters are protected. The lawsuit seeks to force the NFPA to update its standards and guidelines related to PFAS to better protect firefighters and other emergency responders.
President Joseph R. Biden stands with firefighters and the IAFF on this matter and has vocally vowed to fire fighters in Washington on March 6, 2023, “We’re going after toxic exposure to PFAS, so-called ‘forever chemicals’ that have been in your gear, your equipment… that you rely on to do your job for years.”
Lion, the fifth biggest manufacturer of firefighter bunker gear in the United States, manufactures much of the bunker gear worn by fire fighters. These goods are marketed by W. L. Gore & Associates. Neither is named as a defendant in the complaint, but both are mentioned as opposing the IAFF’s attempts to alter the NFPA standard mandating PFAS in bunker gear.
Plaintiffs claim that NFPA, Lion, Gore, and others entered into agreements prior to and after the adoption of Section No. 8.62 of Standard 1971, which they claim constitutes an actionable “civil conspiracy” for which they seek “judgment in its favor against Defendant NFP A for compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by a jury, injunctive relief requiring NFPA to immediately rescind Section No. 8.62 of NFPA 1971.
Firefighters Workers Compensation for Cancer
In California, firefighters who contract cancer on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This would include cancers caused by the carcinogenic risk presented by exposure to the PFAS chemicals in firefighter’s protective gear.
In 2019, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 542, also known as the “Presumptive Disability Law.” This law created a presumption that certain types of cancer are presumed to have been caused by the firefighter’s work, making it easier for firefighters to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for those cancers.
Under this law, if a firefighter develops certain types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, it is presumed that the cancer was caused by their job as a firefighter. This means that the firefighter does not have to prove that their cancer was caused by their job – the burden of proof is shifted to the employer or insurance company to show that the cancer was not work-related.
Firefighters Workers Compensation Attorneys
However, remember, to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, the firefighter must have been exposed to a known carcinogen while on the job. Additionally, the firefighter must have worked for a certain length of time before the presumption applies, and there are other requirements that must be met to qualify for benefits.
These requirements, the mountains of documentation, hearings, and all of the ‘paperwork’ can make the workers’ compensation process complex – meeting the legal and procedural requirements that must be met to ensure that the firefighter receives the benefits to which he or she is entitled.
The skilled and experienced attorneys at the law firm of Cantrell Green have been fighting for the rights of California firefighters for more than fifty years. If you are a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer, our compassionate and aggressive workers compensation and disability retirements attorneys can help you understand your rights and ensure that you and your family obtain the maximum benefits for which you qualify.
Free Consultation with a Firefighters Workers Comp & Disability Retirement Attorney: 562-622-4800
This article applies to California workers compensation, which may vary from state to state. The rules, laws or regulations governing how specific public retirement systems are administered also differ from system to system. If you have question about a specific public employee retirement system, find your system, below – or call our attorneys at: 562-622-4800
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