Timeline: ‘Forever Chemicals’ and Firefighters


For decades, firefighters have been exposed to the “forever chemicals” chemicals known as PFAS, through PFAS-based firefighting foams and firefighting gear coated with PFAS as a water repellant. Foam and gear manufacturers knew that PFAS was toxic and building up in blood but never warned firefighters and instead fought to continue their use.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, completed in 2015, found “evidence that firefighters are at increased risk of certain types of cancer as a result of occupational exposure.” Although the study did not look at PFAS specifically, other studies have linked these compounds to an increased cancer risk.

Here’s what manufacturers and users of PFAS-based firefighting foam and PFAS-coated gear knew and when they knew it




1963


PFAS-based firefighting first created and patented by U.S. Navy.

1970


Internal DuPont memo says PFAS are “highly toxic when inhaled.”

1970


A chemical company warns the firefighting industry that PFAS can be toxic to fish.

1976


PFAS chemicals first added to firefighters’ personal protective equipment, also known as turnout gear.

1977


3M finds PFOS, the PFAS chemical in the company’s Scotchgard fabric treatment, “more toxic than anticipated.”

1979


Firefighting foam with PFAS – known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF – used widely by civilian airports and fire departments.





1980


DuPont internal documents admit that PFOA, known within the company as C-8, “will permeate all glove materials over a period of time.”

1981


3M official denies knowledge of any evidence that exposure to firefighting foam would be a “health danger” to fire fighters.

1983


3M identifies PFAS’ potential harm to the immune system as a cause for concern.

1988


Oil well fire company Boots & Coots expresses “total shock” that 3M falsely claimed PFAS was biodegradable.

1990


3M study finds risk of testicular cancer from exposure to PFOA, or C8.

2000


Department of Defense alerted that 3M would no longer produce PFAS-based firefighting foam due to component chemical PFOS being “bioaccumulative” and “toxic.”

2001


Foam manufacturers are warned that PFAS is “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic.” When all three are present, “it is a death warrant.”

2002


Aviation industry is also warned that PFOS, the main ingredient in foam, is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic and that other PFAS pose similar risks.

2002


Foam manufacturers hire lobbyists to create the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition, or FFFC, to defend the use of PFAS in foam.

2002


FFFC acknowledges that foam breaks down into PFOA but downplays the risks posed by PFOA.

2003


In a meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency, FFFC lobbyist downplays the risk of firefighting foam.

2005


W.L. Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex and a leading manufacturer of firefighting personal protective equipment, warned of toxic exposure risks of PFAS to workers and customers.

2006


EPA Science Advisory Board draft report finds PFOA to be a “likely human carcinogen.”

2008


Blood tests reveal that 9-11 first responders have twice as much PFAS in their blood as the general population.

2009


First EPA “PFAS Action Plan” released.





2011


Defense Department releases a Chemical and Material Emerging Risk Alert for AFFF, citing “human health and environmental risks.”

2015


Biomonitoring study of firefighters shows elevated levels of PFAS in their blood, concluding that “Firefighters may have unidentified sources of occupational exposure to perfluorinated chemicals.”

2015


European Union restricts the use of PFOA in firefighting foams and turnout gear.

2015


Industrial Fire Journal calls for PFAS-free alternatives in turnout gear and firefighting foams.

2015


Defense Department begins to replace foams made with PFOS with foams made with PFBS, a PFAS chemical with a different formula.

2015


The EPA releases a draft toxicity profile for PFBS. It reports that “no studies have been identified that evaluate the association between PFBS exposure and potential cancer outcomes.“

2016


First lawsuits filed against foam companies.





2017


Turnout gear manufacturer claims trace amounts of PFOA in firefighting gear are too small to matter.

2018


Second EPA “PFAS Action Plan” released.

2018


Lawsuits against foam companies consolidated before a federal judge in South Carolina.

2019


Congress directs Defense Department to phase out use of foam made with PFAS by 2024 and requires PFAS blood tests for military firefighters.





2020


Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) introduces Protecting Firefighters From PFAS Act.

2020


Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduces PFAS Exposure Assessment and Documentation Act.

2020


Study finds “significant quantities” of PFAS are being shed from firefighting gear.