Per- and PolyFluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) 

A FFCCS FEMA-funded Sub-Project 

General Information:

• Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic, fluorinated chemicals used worldwide since the 1940s.

• PFAS can be found in consumer products such as upholstery, insulation, electronics, cleaning products, pizza boxes, fabrics, and non-stick cookware.

• Because some older PFAS formulations can stay in the human body for long periods of time, multiple exposures over a person’s lifetime can cause PFAS to increase to the point where adverse health effects occur.

• Exposures to older PFAS formulations in the general population have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, respiratory disease, immune suppression, elevated cholesterol, and decreased fertility. However not much is known about the newer generations of PFAS.

PFAS In Firefighters:

• Historically, aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) or firefighting foams used in the fire service are typically created by combining foaming agents with fluorinated surfactants. PFAS is the active ingredient of these fluorinated surfactants.

• Firefighters may be also be exposed to PFAS through exposure to burning household items during fires and potential contamination from personal protective equipment.

• Firefighters have been found to have higher levels of some PFAS than the general population, though the relative extent of exposure from different occupational sources is not known.

• Exposures to newer generation PFAS have not been studied enough in firefighters.

• PFAS exposures and health effects in firefighters are not well understood.

Research Aims:

Our collaborative team consists of researchers from the University of Arizona, University of Miami, University of Michigan, NIOSH, NCEH, NFPA as well as representatives from the fire service. This study will extend the goals of the overarching FFCCS research project by adding firefighters who have had direct exposure to PFAS, such as industrial and aircraft rescue firefighters. To understand the extent of PFAS exposures in the fire service, potential sources of exposure, and potential health effects, our study will address the following research aims:

1. Create and administer a national survey assessing current AFFF products and uses.

2. Assess acute exposure to PFAS through multiple anticipated exposure pathways, including contributions from fire responses, turnout gear, and use of AFFF.

3. Evaluate acute in vitro and chronic human toxicity of PFAS exposure.

Anticipated Impact:

Through the course of this study, research activities and results are expected to:

• Identify firefighters at higher risk of PFAS exposure and a higher risk of associated adverse health effects.

• Identify practices associated with reduced exposures and toxicity.

• Develop best practice recommendations to reduce firefighter exposure to PFAS and prevent their toxic effects.

• Inform national guidelines and standards for manufacturing, operational, training, and decontamination practices.

This page last updated on 8/31/2020