Firefighters grapple with risks from foam laced with toxic "forever chemicals"

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"Forever chemicals" successful firefighting instrumentality

Firefighters woody with hazard of "forever chemicals" successful equipment 04:04

Inside Fire Station 22 successful Bellbrook, Ohio, Lt. Jay Leach helped region buckets of firefighting foam known arsenic aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) — a instrumentality undeniably effectual astatine suppressing and smothering fires, but 1 besides laced with PFAS, oregon alleged "forever chemicals," which are present linked to assorted cancers.

"Most firefighters who got into this occupation cognize the inherent risks, but we ne'er knew the cogwheel and instrumentality we're utilizing is sidesplitting us," Leach said.

Cancer was the cause of 72% of active-duty firefighter deaths past year, according to the International Association of Firefighters. A abstracted survey showed that fume inhalation causes conscionable 4% of active-duty firefighter deaths.

For Leach, cancer's heartache has nary limits.

His wife, Tracy, was a firefighter for 25 years. She was diagnosed with bosom crab successful 2017, contempt nary household past of cancer. 

"It beauteous overmuch ravaged her body," Leach said. "And then, successful December 2022, she was diagnosed terminally and 2 weeks later, connected Christmas Eve, she died."

Leach present carries a representation of Tracy with him successful his firefighting helmet whenever helium goes retired connected a call. While helium cannot beryllium conclusively that PFAS from the firefighting foam were the origin of his wife's cancer, Leach said helium "wholeheartedly" believes they were the source. 

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, an manufacture radical for chemic companies, said it supports limitations connected utilizing AFFF, but added, "All PFAS are not the same. It is not scientifically close oregon due to radical them unneurotic erstwhile considering information risks."

For Leach, dropping disconnected buckets of AFFF for demolition was cathartic.

A safer foam present exists, but tens of thousands of gallons of AFFF inactive beryllium successful occurrence stations crossed America. Thirty-four states person introduced policies to prohibition oregon bounds the usage of AFFF, and Ohio is the archetypal authorities committed to destroying each of it.

But the hazard from PFAS doesn't conscionable travel from AFFF. The chemicals person been wrong different pieces of firefighting cogwheel for decades. PFAS assistance repel h2o and contaminants, but putting the cogwheel connected means wrapping yourself successful suspected carcinogens.

"We sweat, our pores unfastened up and everlastingly chemicals tin spell into our body," Leach said. 

He told CBS News that, 19 years into the job, he's acold much frightened of crab than fires.

"I emotion the job, but astatine the extremity of the time I beryllium and think, 'Is it worthy it?'"

Mark Strassmann

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Mark Strassmann is CBS News' elder nationalist analogous based successful Atlanta. He covers a wide scope of stories, including abstraction exploration. Strassmann is besides the elder nationalist analogous for "Face the Nation."

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