University of Arizona to study effect of PFAS exposure on firefighters

The university has received a $1.5 million grant to study the impact of chemicals in firefighting foam and gear on firefighter health


By Laura French

TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona has received a $1.5 million research grant to study the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam and gear on firefighter health. 

PFAS have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, respiratory disease and other health conditions in the general population, but the effects of work-related exposure on firefighters have not been widely studied, according to a University of Arizona news release.

University of Arizona researchers are leading a study that aims to understand the health risks associated with chemicals used in firefighters' protective equipment and foam used to put out fires.
University of Arizona researchers are leading a study that aims to understand the health risks associated with chemicals used in firefighters' protective equipment and foam used to put out fires. (Photo/Tucson Fire Department)

"Firefighters need more information to develop best-practice recommendations to reduce their exposure to PFAS and prevent the associated toxic effects," said UArizona Associate Dean of Research Dr. Jeffrey Burgess, who is a professor at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the lead researcher on the project. 

The funds for the research come from FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Burgess has previously studied firefighters' cancer risk from fireground toxin exposures.

The main objective of the study will be to identify the key PFAS exposure routes and compare different practices for limiting exposure at airport fire departments that use firefighting foam to battle aircraft fires. 

"The results from this research by Dr. Jeff Burgess and colleagues will inform national standards, manufacturing guidelines, operational, training and decontamination practices in the fire service," said UArizona President Robert C. Robbins. "Protecting the health of our nation's firefighters and first responders is vital to the overall safety of our nation." 

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