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B.C. firefighters concerned cancer-causing chemicals found in protective gear


Every two years, firefighters come together on the grounds of the B.C. Legislature to pay their respects to fallen colleagues. On Monday morning, 48 names will be read allowed.

"We’re talking probably out of the 48, in excess of 40 died from cancer," said Gord Ditchburn, president of the British Columbia Professional Firefighters Association (BCPFFA), on Friday.

This year will look a little different. Members flanking the memorial will not be wearing their turnout gear.

"The very gear that we wear, the very protective gear that we don everyday to protect the public and go into burning buildings, there’s chemicals contained within it," said Ditchburn.

Those synthetic chemicals are called PFAS and they are imbedded in the liner of the gear to protect first responders.

But, firefighters say studies out of the U.S. have found those same chemicals are cancer-causing.

"They are linked to a number of cancers including testicular and kidney," said Neil McMillan, science and research director of the International Association of Firefighters.

Knowing the risks, the BCPFFA has directed its members not to wear the gear unless on the job.

"That includes what we’re going to do on Monday," said Ditchburn.

Currently, there are no other alternatives to PFAS for turnout gear on the market, although south of the border, progress is being made.

"In 2018, Washington state was the first state in the nation to ban PFAS in firefighting foam, and require gear manufacturers to disclose whether there was PFAS in their turnout gear," said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future in Seattle, Wash.

Valeriano says other states have now followed suit, forcing the market to find an alternative.

"We’re seeing much more of a movement to PFAS-free alternatives," said Valeriano.

The national organization expects those alternatives to take a few years to get approval for firefighting purposes.

Back here in Canada, firefighters say they're pushing for the same changes.

"We’ll be in Ottawa at the end of March for a legislative conference," said Ditchburn. "That will be the issue on the hill."

Firefighting groups will be asking for legislative change from the federal government, pushing for an alternative to PFAS.

"If we’ve got firefighters willing to put their lives on the line, willing to protect communities and strangers, it’s the least that we can ask, that the gear we wear isn’t going to kill us," said Ditchburn. Top Stories

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