Guaranteeing Equipment Safety for Firefighters — PFAS Project

Diane Cotter
3 min readFeb 19, 2021

Exposure of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) released from Firefighter’s Gear

Update From National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) …

via the Office of Senator Jeanne Shaheen, (D) NH ~ Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, & Related Agencies on Appropriations

(this is the 2.2 million dollar study Dr Peaslee lobbied for in 2019 with Senator Shaheen’s office)

Goal: To identify a firefighter’s relative risk of exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) released from their protective gear

Background: There is growing evidence that firefighters are being exposed to PFAS associated with their gear. The source of the PFAS may be from the firefighter gear (FFG) construction materials or manufacturing process, deterioration of the FFG during service, and/or deposition on the FFG while on duty. To characterize and reduce the Firefighter’s risk of being exposed to PFAS, it is critical to understand the type, prevalence, and concentration of PFAS on the FFG, the source of PFAS, and the mechanism for PFAS release.

Year 1 — Objective: Measure PFAS associated with new-FFG


  1. Review current knowledge on PFAS in FFG, measurements, and risk of exposure approaches
  2. Develop standardized liquid extraction methodologies to characterize extractable PFAS
  3. Use standardized liquid extraction to identify and quantify PFAS located in multiple pieces of new-FFG (thermal line, moisture barrier, hood, breathing apparatus, etc.)
  4. Develop a thermal exposure method to create simulated thermal aging FFG
  5. Identify viable methodologies for expressing the relative risk of PFAS exposure

Year 2 — Objective: Measure PFAS associated with used-FFG


  1. Develop a standardized gas analysis methodology for characterizing PFAS
  2. Develop a standardized methodology to collect airborne PFAS
  3. Develop a standardized methodology for abrasion, sunlight, and launder stressing of new-FFG
  4. Characterize (identity and concentration) extractable and airborne PFAS from thermally aged FFG
  5. Develop a PFAS collaboration with other agencies
  6. Complete gap analysis and mitigation strategy for expressing the relative risk of PFAS exposure
  7. 2nd Annual PFAS-FFG symposium — Targeting August/September 2021

Year 3 — Objective Complete used-FFG analysis, characterize fire environment, and develop risk of exposure


  1. Complete abrasion, sunlight and launder stressing of used-FFG started in Year 2
  2. Characterize PFAS found in simulated stressed gear
  3. Characterize PFAS found in FFG used in the field
  4. Characterize PFAS found at a fire scenes (living room, using AFFF)
  5. Final report with results of research and recommendation for reducing PFAS exposure
  6. 3rd Annual PFAS-FFG symposium

Preliminary results

○ NIST (Gaithersburg and South Carolina) used the liquid protocol on at least 10 new/off the shelf FFG fabrics (thermal liner, outer shell, and moisture barrier). PFAS was present in these fabrics. The experiments are being repeated to establish a measurement uncertainty.

NIST-CDC/NIOSH/NPPTL collaboration

NIST has led several meetings with our colleagues from CDC/NIOSH/NPPTL. There is an oversight group that meets once a quarter and three task specific groups (PFAS Analysis, PFAS Toxicity, FFG and Fire Scene) that are meeting monthly.

Update From Senator Shaheen’s office on contact(s) and potential symposium:

Hi Diane,

These are the best folks to contact if people have questions about the study.

Nelson Bryner (

Rick Davis (

Since the first symposium had to be cancelled due to COVID, they don’t have much info yet on what they will consist of. They do know of our interest in them and will keep us updated as they plan the symposium for later this year/confirm they will have it depending on how COVID is.






Diane Cotter

A very private individual who fell into a very public rabbit hole of epic proportions. I call it the #greatestdeceptionever - really, EVER.