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The International Association of Fire Fighters is a labor union representing paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada. The IAFF was formed in 1918 and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Canadian Labour Congress in Canada. It represents more than 334,000 fire fighters across the United States and Canada.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a global self-funded nonprofit organization, established in 1896, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

In what it calls “the next step in its fight to combat fire fighter cancer”, the International Association of Fire Fighters filed suit March 16 against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for its role in imposing a testing standard that effectively requires the use of toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS, in fire fighter protective gear,

Section No. 8.62, a provision in NFPA Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (Standard 1971), requires certain components of fire fighter bunker gear to pass the Ultraviolet Light Degradation Test. The test requires turnout gear to be exposed to UV light for 40 hours without degradation. The only substance that can pass the test for that long is PFAS.

A June 2020 study of bunker gear by researchers at the University of Notre Dame analyzed 30 new and used bunker jackets and pants originally marketed, distributed, and sold in 2008. 2014, and 2017, by six bunker gear makers, and found high levels of PFAS in bunker gear worn, used, or handled by fire fighters.

IAFF General President Edward Kelly said however that: “Even when presented with independent science on the health and safety risks, the NFPA has refused to help save our lives,

The complaint, International Association of Fire Fighters v. National Fire Protection Association, Inc., seeks to hold the NFPA liable for not removing the dangerous test from its Standard 1971.

On March 6, 2023, President Joseph R. Biden, speaking to fire fighters in Washington, pledged, ,..We’re going after toxic exposure to PFAS, so-called ‘forever chemicals’ that for years have been in your gear, your equipment … that you depend on to be able to do your job.”

PFASs are human-made chemicals first invented in the 1930s. As of 2021, PFASs are defined as fluorinated substances that, with a few noted exceptions, any chemical with at least a perfluorinated methyl group or a perfluorinated methylene group is a PFAS.

PFAS are known as °’forever chemicals,” and per the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (to which the U S is a signatory) are defined as: Persistent- because they do not break down through organic processes or in the environment; Transboundary – as they migrate through surface and ground water, as well as in the atmosphere and through wildlife; and Bio-accumulative – as they concentrate within our bodies and are passed to the fetus within the womb and though breast milk. Exposure to PFAs in humans can occur through inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact. The two most widely known and studied PFAS are PFOA and PFOS.

According to the OECD, at least 4,730 distinct PFASs are known, which contain at least three perfluorinated carbon atoms. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicity database, DSSTox, lists 14,735 unique PFAS chemical compounds. PubChem lists approximately 6 million.

Many PFASs were used in the mid-20th century in products and on materials due to their enhanced water-resistant properties, such as within Teflon or aqueous film forming foam. Only since the start of the 21st century has the environmental impact and toxicity to human and mammalian life been studied in depth. PFASs are commonly described as persistent organic pollutants because they remain in the environment for long periods of time, and are also known as “forever chemicals”.

Certain PFASs are no longer manufactured in the United States, as a result of phase-outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program (2010-2015), in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and are imported into the US in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.

An estimated 26,000 U.S. sites are contaminated with PFASs. At least six million Americans are estimated to have drinking water containing PFASs above the safe limit published prior to 2022 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 2021 California banned PFASs for use in food packaging and from infant and children’s products and also required PFAS cookware in the state to carry a warning label. In 2021, Maine became the first U.S. state to ban these compounds in all products by 2030, except for instances deemed “currently unavoidable.”

Much of the bunker gear worn by fire fighters is made by Lion who is is the fifth largest manufacturer of bunker gear in the United States. W. L. Gore & Associates markets these products. Neither of them are named as defendants in the complaint, but both are discussed as opposing efforts by the IAFF to change the NFPA standard mandating PFAS in bunker gear.

Plaintiffs allege that NFPA, Lion, Gore and others entered into agreements before an after adoption Section No. 8.62 of Standard 1971 which they claim to be 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, together with prejudgment interest, post-judgment interest, costs and expenses, attorneys’ fees and costs , and such other relief as this Court deems just and equitable.”