Diane Cotter
8 min readJan 15, 2019



My name is Diane Cotter, my husband is a 28 year veteran of the Worcester MA fire department. On September 19, 2014 my husband was promoted to Lieutenant, after 28 years on Rescue 1. It was not a decision he wanted to make, but one that would better our family. When he learnt he passed the Lt exam he told me his heart sank. One month later, on October 15th my husband’s career was over. He was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is rampant in the fire service. In the fire service we have been groomed by leading manufacturers that our cancers are the result of products of combustion, diesel exhausts, exposure to ‘soiled gear’.

While these exposures are a fact, they left out something. That is the chemicals used to make our turnout gear contain staggering amounts of the PFAS chemicals. When I say staggering, I mean at a minimum, 14,000 times the new MRL for PFOA. DuPont is one of the makers of the fabrics used in the outer shell portion of turnout gear. For years they have been immersed in every aspect of FF cancer, from funding ff cancer research, guiding student thesis’s on ‘soiled gear’ to funding FF cancer symposiums, advising us over and over to wash our gear etc., They deny ever using PFOA. They use slick language to stating ‘they never have used PFOA in the process of making PPE’. They tell us if it is there, it will be in ‘trace amounts, as a by-product of production’. Those words play on the ignorance of the fire service who does not yet understand that the PFAS chemicals used then degraded to form PFOA. And who now believe ‘trace amounts’ are not enough to harm us. The ‘short chain PFAS chemicals used now are of concern as well, but we can’t find out what is used. That’s proprietary.

Turnout Gear literature in the fire service will show our manufacturers discussing their gear is the best possible prevention method for particle penetration, water resistance, cancer prevention. In the fire service it’s all about cancer prevention. It’s all we talk about, but, we can’t discuss the chemicals that our gear is made from. Any inquiries will receive the standard ‘proprietary’ information reply.

In January 2018, my husband and I received results from our own independent study as performed by Professor of Physics, Graham Peaslee of Notre Dame University, that confirmed our suspicion that long chain PFCs were found in new, never-worn turnout gear. What we weren’t prepared for, was the amounts used. That these chemicals have been used for almost 20 years in the fire service, and they have been degrading in our stations for that long.

On June 25th, at the first in the nation EPA Panel on PFAS Community Engagement, after the release of the much contested PFAS Toxicological Profile, the group Testing for Pease and Toxics Action Center hosted a community event. I gave the following statement:

Thank you Testing for Pease and Toxics Action Center for the opportunity to share the plight of this nation’s fire service in this catastrophe. Thank you EPA and CDC for hearing us.

After placing the 2004 gear on the stage (it was placed in a see through bag as I was concerned about the amounts of PFOA/PFNA):

Thank you Organizers and EPA Panel Members for allowing me this opportunity to speak.My name is Diane Cotter, I am here with my husband, Lt Paul Cotter, retired, 28 year veteran, Worcester Fire Department . And cancer survivor.

My community is the 1.3 million firefighters in this nation who have been completely overlooked in this PFAS catastrophe. America’s firefighters have been on the front line of PFAS exposure since 1983 using it in AFFF, being sprayed in our faces, wading in it, having turnout gear soaked in it, and exposing our families to it after bringing gear home.

We were not aware how toxic this substance was. This turnout gear I have is from 2004, it is new and never worn or ‘contaminated’ as the fire service would say. Jan of 2018 our grassroots effort acquired Professor of Physics Graham Peaselee, of Notre Dame Univ to test it for PFAS content. Just the ‘fraction of the potential’ that is in this gear tested at 157 ppb PFOA and 257 PFNA.

THAT IS 14, 000 times the newly set recommended limit of PFOA.

Turnout gear has been impregnated with PFOA since 1999 (at least) to meet NFPA water repellent STANDARDS. We were never made aware. We do not know how much. Only our gear manufacturers have that information. We sweat in this gear, our body temperature rises and our skin absorbs these toxins. We start our careers in our child bearing years. PFOA and PFOS are designated by California Prop65 as causing ‘reproductive cancers’.

In 2006 the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) notified gear manufacturers they would be restricting PFOA in ‘textiles’. One of those textiles is firefighter PPE. By 2012 PFOA was designated a Substance of Very High Concern there. Gear manufacturers were made aware of the decision to restrict the amount of PFOA in turnout gear to 25ppb and ‘precursors’ to 1 ppm. To date they have not advised the US of this issue. While the manufacturers are discussing and teaching about the issue in Europe, they have not mentioned it here.

They minimized the issue when it came up recently in a firefighting trade magazine published by ‘Station Pride’ titled ‘The Real Cancer in Your Gear’. https://station-pride.com/2017/03/28/the-real-cancer-in-your-gear/ We are in a particularly high risk exposure setting as our gear has been degrading in our fire stations where we work, eat, sleep, since 1999. The coating degrades in UV lighting, in many stations our gear is stored in open lighting next to apparatus in bays. Paul’s station had 80 sets of gear rotating through his station in one week. The gear is designed to be used for 10 years. Over 20 years we have had thousands of sets releasing particles of PFOA into our stations.

The new short chain coatings are also a concern. NH State Rep and Enviro Scientist Mindi Messmer wrote an article on this issue titled Firefighter Cancer Quadfecta. https://www.firefighternation.com/…/firefighter-cancer-quad… ; From trade magazine FireFighter Nation: “The replacements, termed “short chain PFCs” were sported as better for the environment and public health. However, scientific studies conducted in laboratory animals indicate that the short chain replacements could be more toxic to humans since they accumulate longer in organs than the long chain legacy compounds. This may be the cause of cancer incidence in younger firefighters”. “I have been advocating for a national health study specifically focused on firefighters to assess the health outcomes because they are highly exposed. It is often difficult to tie causation with cancer or other chronic diseases. Focusing on the highly exposed populations is more likely to carefully evaluate possible negative health outcomes for exposures to PFCs. This should include, at a minimum, thorough cancer screening and annual serum PFC monitoring of firefighters to provide longitudinal data to assess health outcomes (see Table 2). It is not enough to have a cancer registry, we have to prevent cancer by taking proactive steps to identify and prevent exposures in while firefighting, in fire stations, and in the turnout gear before they make firefighters sick.” Mindi Messmer

To date there has not been a PFAS dust study done in our stations. Yet, biomonitoring has shown firefighters PFOA serum tested in ranges from 243 ng/mL to 423 ng/mL from a ‘yet unknown source’. The ‘DuPont Water Works’ plant workers were considered high at 32 ng/mL.

Adding to this concern is the October 2, 2017 NH DES letter to every fire station in NH that of 6 of 7 New Hampshire fire stations water wells tested at ‘elevated’ levels of PFAS. https://www4.des.state.nh.us/…/Fire_Department_H20Sample.pdf

In 1992 DuPont’s own scientist learned their PFOA caused testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is the number one cancer in the fire service. . DuPont is a manufacturer of our gear. They have yet to tell us about this. They are immersed in every aspect of fire fighter cancer research, and teaching prevention methods. In 2006 they notified shareholders that ‘any attempt to regulate PFOA would impact their bottom line’. They never shared that with us either. In 2005 the United Steelworkers Union advised Gore also a turnout gear manufacturer, and DuPont, to notify the end user of the harmful effects of PFOA. Neither did. https://www.cleanlink.com/…/Steelworkers-Union-Warn-of-Harm…

On September 5, 2017, Environmental Attorney Robert Bilott, C8 Science panel’s Dr Paul A Brooks, and Fire Chief Jeff Hermes have demanded testing and studies of the EPA, CDC/ATSDR, and US Attorney General on behalf of all first responders US due to their exposure from foam and gear. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3988104-Firefighter-Letter.html

With NO regulations for these chemicals, manufacturers are under NO obligation to tell us what we are wearing, or spraying. They defiantly refuse to give us that information citing ‘proprietary information’. They have even lobbied for and win the right to NOT put warning labels in our turnout gear. Our manufacturers sit on NFPA committees deciding safety standards of gear, from the balance of a helmet to the width of reflective tape. but are under no obligation to advise of the chemicals in our gear. They never did. Not once. The newly released PFAS study mentions FF occupational and high risk of exposure numerous times.

Yet the fire service has been omitted from the multi million dollar PFAS Study award. We respectfully ask Senator Shaheen and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to immediately add this nations fire fighters to the PFAS Registry along with the already chosen active military and veterans.

The EPA and NIOSH have been kicking this issue of occupational exposure and setting limits down the road for over 40 years. Last week I shared a 1977 NIOSH report titled “ Criteria for a recommended standard — occupational exposure to DECOMPOSITION PRODUCTS of FLUOROCARBON POLYMERS” . Here in 2018 we are seeing the same thing.

(see attached cdc_19394_DS1)

Under both Democratic and Republican leadership the EPA and CDC have been a catastrophic failure to the fire service. Hasn’t anyone wondered about the firefighter they see covered head to toe in A-tripleF?

After 40 years of indecisiveness, the fire service took matters into its own hands. Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and Toxic Free Future passed SB 6413 limiting the use PFAS in AFFF and requiring labels be added advising the wearer of PFAS exposure in turnout gear. The Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, in support with Toxics Action Center, has voted unanimously last week to make PFAS legislation a priority.

The fire service can do this state to state to protect ourselves and fellow citizens. And we WILL get it done. But isn’t that your job?


Diane Cotter

Please see our social media page Your Turnout Gear and PFOA for updates on this issue.



Diane Cotter

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