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Scientists studying turnout gear for fluorinated chemicals

An initial study of turnout gear by researchers at the University of Notre Dame found that the turnout gear samples were “loaded with fluorine”


An independent study is being conducted on turnout gear after initial samples tested positive for fluorine.

Photo/Fire Chief

By FireRescue1 Staff

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — An independent study is being conducted on turnout gear after initial samples tested positive for fluorine.

According to a press release, University of Notre Dame Experimental Nuclear Physics Professor Graham Peaslee is testing new and used personal protective gear issued through the 2000s for the presence of perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), which have been linked to various forms of cancer.

Peaslee said the initial results from tested PPE fabric swatches were “phenomenal.”

“(The results were) off the scale in parts per million of fluorine in all but one of the samples,” he said. “Everything was just loaded with fluorine.”

Researchers are using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy, a new, cost-effective and efficient method created by Peaslee to test for PFASs. He and his team will test to see how much fluorine, if any, is coming off the gear as firefighters use it.

“We’re going to measure each piece of gear and look at the difference in fluorine content over time and extensive use,” he said. “The obvious thing is, if you take the new gear and wash it, do the measurements match the old gear? I can also then take the water from the wash and test the liquid. We can expose swatches of this fabric to heat and light and see if the fluorine content is affected. Will the chemical bonds break down?”

Scientists are currently unsure if PFASs can transfer to the human body through skin contact, but a study conducted by Peaslee in 2017, which used mice to track PFASs, suggested that certain PFASs can accumulate in the brain and stomach.

“If I can see a measurable decrease from our tests, that means the PFAS has gone into the environment,” Peaslee said. “That environment is in the workplace where these firefighters work, and where these firefighters live. That would be a pretty significant finding. I think it’s a study that needs to be done.”