By: Blair Miller
BOSTON – Lawmakers are calling for immediate action after a Boston 25 News report laid out some new concerns about the gear firefighters wear.
Researchers are concerned about the chemicals being used on that gear and the possible impacts to the health of firefighters.
Boston 25 News traveled to a lab at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where nuclear physics professor Graham Peaslee is testing firefighter gear — including some from Boston.
He’s looking for certain man-made flourinated chemicals called PFAS.
Studies show they can be linked to cancer and Peaslee’s tests showed those chemicals on the jackets firefighters wear.
“The reason I’m doing this study is because I’m concerned,” Peaslee said.
Massachusetts State Representative Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro) wanted to see our story. He’s recently filed a bill that would reduce toxic chemicals in protective gear for firefighters. After seeing our report, he wants to fast track it.
“I think this is an urgent situation that needs to be dealt with right away,” Hawkins told Boston 25 News.
He says too many firefighters are dying too young — linked to occupational cancer.
“I don’t think you can get rid of the gear. They need the gear, so it would be different chemicals and a different way of keeping them safe from the flames and smoke and other carcinogens that they may be exposed to in a fire,” Hawkins said.
The Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts responded to our story saying, “The excessive rate of firefighters being diagnosed with occupational cancer is simply unacceptable! Your report and other studies we have seen are extremely concerning to the PFFM. The PFFM will insist that municipalities provide our firefighters with safe turnout gear and other equipment to protect our members.”
“This isn’t an emotional knee-jerk response,” Rep. Hawkins said. “This is a scientific response to a problem.”
We also took some firefighter gear from Massachusetts to that lab in Notre Dame to be tested. Some of it contained Bromine, which is also toxic. Dr. Peaslee was very concerned about that. Several firefighters said they now plan to check their own gear to make sure it’s not on there.