San Francisco Poised to Ban PFAS in Firefighting Gear, Citing Cancer Risks

The city of San Francisco is poised to become the first in the US to ban the use of firefighting gear containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," due to their link to harmful health effects, with the city's Board of Supervisors expected to pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of PFAS-containing protective equipment for its 1,400 firefighters. The ban, which would take effect by June 30, 2026, aims to prioritize firefighters' health and safety, and could spark a broader movement to eliminate PFAS in various industries. This description focuses on the primary topic of the PFAS ban, the main entity of the San Francisco city government, and the context of the firefighters' health and safety. It also highlights the significant action of the ban and its potential implications for the industry. The objective details provided will help guide the AI in creating an accurate visual representation of the article's content.

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Nitish Verma
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San Francisco Poised to Ban PFAS in Firefighting Gear, Citing Cancer Risks

San Francisco Poised to Ban PFAS in Firefighting Gear, Citing Cancer Risks

San Francisco is set to become the first city in the United States to ban the use of firefighting gear containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals." The city's Board of Supervisors is expected to pass an ordinance on Tuesday, prohibiting the use of protective equipment made with PFAS, which have been linked to harmful health effects, including decreased fertility, low birth weight, developmental delays in children, and a higher risk of certain cancers.

Why this matters: The ban on PFAS in firefighting gear sets a precedent for cities and states to prioritize the health and safety of firefighters, and could lead to a broader movement to eliminate the use of "forever chemicals" in various industries. As the first city to take this step, San Francisco's decision could have a ripple effect in prompting manufacturers to develop safer alternatives to PFAS.

PFAS are still found in nearly all firefighters' uniforms, as they help clothing repel flammable liquids and resist extreme heat. However, the precise levels of PFAS exposure to firefighters through their uniforms are still being studied and remain largely unknown. Lt. Magaly Saade, a firefighter and training instructor at the San Francisco Fire Department, believes that wearing protective gear made with PFAS may have contributed to her cancer diagnosis. "I definitely don't want someone else to have to go through what I did," Saade said.

The proposed ban would give the San Francisco Fire Department until June 30, 2026, to purchase new protective clothing made without PFAS for its more than 1,400 firefighters. The estimated price tag for each PFAS-free turnout is $3,400, with a total cost of $10.1 million for the city. Proponents of the ban argue that the cost is worth it to protect firefighters' health. "Cost is so small compared to a human life, is so small compared to the cost of healthcare, is so small compared to the cost of settling lawsuits," said Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Since February 11, San Francisco firefighters have been testing new turnouts made without PFAS as part of a nationwide trial orchestrated by the International Association of Fire Fighters. The trial is studying the reliability of uniforms from three companies: Fire Dex, Lion, and Honeywell. Preliminary findings are expected this summer, but questions remain about the long-term safety of PFAS-free alternatives for firefighters.

Dr. Bryan Ormond, a chemist and assistant professor of Textile Engineering at North Carolina State University, is researching turnout materials and has found that removing PFAS may make firefighter uniforms less breathable and more susceptible to burning. "We don't want to just trade one hazard for another," Ormond said. "We have to ask the questions of what the tradeoffs are, what can possibly happen."

Despite the challenges, supporters of the ban believe it may push manufacturers to develop safer alternatives to PFAS. Adam Wood, vice president of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, emphasized the importance of ensuring the new uniforms protect firefighters without introducing new risks. "We just need to make sure they still function well as turnouts, protecting us from heat and allowing us to do our job in a burning building," Wood said. "We need to know the PFAS replacement isn't exchanging one poison for another."

If passed, the San Francisco ordinance banning PFAS in firefighting gear would be the first of its kind in the nation. The proposed ban highlights the growing concern over the health risks associated with PFAS exposure and the urgent need for safer alternatives to protect those who risk their lives to keep others safe. As the city awaits the final vote and the fire department prepares for the transition, the nation will be watching closely to see if San Francisco's bold move sparks a wider shift away from PFAS in firefighting gear.

Key Takeaways

  • San Francisco to ban PFAS in firefighting gear, a first in the US.
  • PFAS linked to health issues, including cancer and developmental delays.
  • New gear without PFAS to cost $10.1 million, a small price for safety.
  • Nationwide trial testing PFAS-free alternatives, results expected this summer.
  • Ban may push manufacturers to develop safer alternatives to PFAS.