Wikipedia Commons License  May 4, 2017. Vancouver, BC  Political BC party NDP Leader John Horgan stops by Fire Hall No. 22 at 1005 W 59th Ave.
11 Mar 2024

Vancouver could be first in North America to phase out PFA-containing bunker gear


Vancouver's fire chief Karen Fry says some firefighters in her department will soon start to get new uniforms — ones that don't contain a controversial group of chemicals potentially linked to high cancer rates in fire halls worldwide, reports the CBC.

The support from the Vancouver firefighters' union underscores the importance of this move, reflecting a unified effort among unions and fire chiefs across British Columbia and North America to address the risks associated with PFAS-containing gear. This coordinated advocacy highlights the collective commitment to safeguarding the well-being of firefighters and reducing their occupational exposure to harmful substances.

Unions and fire chiefs across B.C. and North America have been calling for this since late 2022.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) indeed represent a broad group of 4700 manufactured chemicals, with thousands of variants, each with its own unique properties and potential health impacts. These chemicals have been utilized in various products due to their water and grease-resistant properties, making them valuable in applications like firefighting foams, non-stick cookware, and even cosmetics.

The continuous development of new PFAS variants poses challenges for regulators and researchers in understanding their full range of effects on human health and the environment. Health Canada, like other regulatory agencies worldwide, closely monitors these chemicals and their evolving variants to assess potential risks and take appropriate regulatory actions as necessary.

Given the widespread use of PFAS in various consumer and industrial products, ongoing surveillance and research are crucial for protecting public health and the environment from potential harm associated with these chemicals,  as new variants are "continually being developed," the agency's website states.

"Adverse environmental and health effects have been observed ... and they have been shown to pose a risk to the Canadian environment," the federal agency said. "Cumulative exposure could increase the potential for adverse effects.

"Certain PFAS is associated with reproductive, developmental, endocrine, liver, kidney and immunological effects."


The CBC news article highlights significant developments regarding the replacement of firefighting gear containing polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals in Vancouver, British Columbia. Here's a summary of the key points:

  1. Phase-out of PFAS-containing gear: Vancouver's fire chief, Karen Fry, has announced plans to phase out jackets and pants containing PFAS chemicals in the Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS). This move comes in response to concerns about the potential link between PFAS exposure and increased cancer rates among firefighters globally.
  2. City approval: The City of Vancouver has authorized the purchase of PFAS-free gear for approximately 20% of the VFRS workforce. Plans are underway to secure funding for replacing all remaining gear containing PFAS pending approval from city council.
  3. Health concerns: PFAS chemicals have been associated with various health risks, including cancer and other adverse effects on human health. Health Canada and the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) have raised concerns about the potential hazards of PFAS exposure.
  4. Union support: The Vancouver firefighters' union, along with other firefighter associations, has welcomed the decision to phase out PFAS-containing gear. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 18 praised the move as a "landmark decision" that prioritizes the well-being of firefighters.
  5. Legislative action: Legislative efforts are underway to mandate the phase-out of PFAS-containing equipment in fire departments across British Columbia. B.C. Greens MLA Adam Olsen introduced a private member's bill aiming to eliminate PFAS in firefighting equipment within the next five years.
  6. Calls for action: Fire chiefs' associations and firefighter unions have been advocating for the removal of PFAS from firefighting gear, emphasizing the urgency of addressing occupational cancer risks among firefighters.

Overall, the decision by the Vancouver Fire Rescue Services to transition to PFAS-free gear reflects a proactive approach to mitigating health hazards faced by firefighters, possibly setting a potential precedent for other fire departments in North America.

Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry says to the CBC in a phone interview: 

"Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters in North America," Fry said in a phone interview Saturday. "This is something we really need to do, and being a leader in North America really stands out."


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons License

May 4, 2017. Vancouver, BC

Political BC party NDP Leader John Horgan stops by Fire Hall No. 22 at 1005 W 59th Ave.

Date: 4 May 2017, 07:39

Source: Vancouver Fire Station No.22

Author: BC NDP