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San Francisco officials to vote on ban of PFAS in firefighting gear

Supporters of the ban believe it will push manufacturers to avoid using the cancer-causing chemicals

By Bill Carey

SAN FRANCISCO — Legislators in San Francisco are set to vote on Tuesday on a groundbreaking ban that would prohibit the use of fire safety gear containing chemicals linked to cancer. This would be the first ban of its kind in the nation, according to NBC Bay Area.

If the proposed ban is approved, it will need another majority vote at the subsequent board of supervisors meeting on May 14 to become law, NBC Bay Area reported.

“We are not willing to negotiate how long we will continue poisoning people,” San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation Vice President Adam Wood said. “The change has to happen now.”

Wood, a firefighter in the city’s Mission District, is part of a vocal group advocating for a ban on PFAS or “forever chemicals.” These compounds, which break down very slowly, are linked to several health risks, including higher cholesterol, immune issues and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I definitely don’t want someone else to have to go through what I did,” Lieutenant Magaly Saade said. “I’ve had cancer twice.”

Saade, a firefighter for 26 years, underwent radiation and a double mastectomy for cancer treatment. She suspects her PFAS-laced protective gear contributed to her diagnosis.

In San Francisco, female firefighters face a breast cancer rate six times the national average, per the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation. Over the last 20 years, the department has lost over 300 firefighters to cancer.

According to a city Budget Analyst’s office report, each new PFAS-free turnout costs about $3,400. Providing two sets for each of San Francisco’s 1,482 firefighters would cost $10.1 million. The city had already allocated $1.7 million for replacing older gear and received a $2.3 million FEMA grant, leaving about $6 million for the city to fund over the next two years.

Fire-Dex, Lion and Honeywell are marketing PFAS-free protective gear. These products are under a 90-day trial in select cities like Miami, Denver and San Francisco, coordinated by the IAFF since February. Preliminary results of this study are anticipated this summer.

PFAS-free turnouts are currently being tested in select cities, including Miami; Prince George’s County, Maryland; Ottawa, Canada; Denver and San Francisco. In San Francisco, Wood reports that the gear is performing as expected after a few months of testing.

How firefighters can protect themselves from PFAS:
Learn how you can limit your exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl, also known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals”