‘Ammo, Please’

How Lion, Steadfast, Tencate, and Milliken & Company lied to America’s firefighters

Turnout Gear

Turnout Gear

Part Three

The manufacturers of firefighter turnout gear began taking on Diane Cotter as soon as her first article, “The Real Cancer in Your Gear,” was published on March 28, 2017 at Station-Pride.com, a media outlet read by rank and file members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

The article revealed her strong suspicion that her husband Paul’s prostate cancer was caused by the hidden chemicals in firefighter turnout gear.

“My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer 27 months ago,” she wrote. “The shock and awe of hearing, ‘yes, it is cancer’ is the most powerful, helpless feeling we’ve ever had.”

She revealed that, in the two years since his diagnosis, Paul had undergone robotic radical prostatectomy surgery at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston and required blood work every three months. It wasn’t pretty. It was gritty.

Sidelined from his duties as a highly skilled firefighter, Paul’s Rescue 1 crew at the Worcester Fire Department “gave him the best retirement party possible,” Diane recalled. “Full of skits, awards, and his ax. But it was ten years too early.”

After being posted, the article was shared more than 4,000 times and downloaded some 100,000 times. Editor Jon Marr "was stunned that there was barely one comment... just people tagging each other as if in belief…” she recalls.

‘Need Ammo’

Industry emails obtained by HealthyLivinG Magazine discussed the article almost immediately. Karen Lehtonen of the gear manufacturer Lion Protect wrote in an April 7, 2017 email to Mike Salvato of Steadfast and referred to “The Real Cancer in Your Gear / Station Pride” article: “I assume this has been forwarded to you already. However, just in case I wanted you to be aware of this article quickly making the rounds.”

Almost simultaneously, a representative of Starfield LION wrote Lehtonen, “This has been [passed] around by several FF in various departments and a number of them I know…. one sent to me and it is on FB… I’m looking for thoughts … and need ammo please just in case.”

The Science of Deception

Industry response was swift On April 10, 2017, in an online statement, Steadfast Advanced Barrier Technologies reassured firefighters:

“Even when PFOA was used to produce PTFE, the films used in STEDAIR Laminates had only tract amounts of residual PFOA.”

On April 11, 2017 Tencate Protective Fabrics said the company “does not use PFOA in the manufacturing of outer shell and thermal liner fabrics.”

On April 20, 2017, Safety Components asserted it “does not use PFOA” but that, in any event, “studies have shown that these trace levels are safe.”

Lion advised users of its gear in all caps, “HERE’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PFOA AND YOUR TURNOUT GEAR…. At LION, everything we do is designed to keep you safe—from the gear we make to the maintenance we provide. So when concerns about our gear’s safety arise, we take them very seriously… LION does not use PFOA or PFOS in our turnout gear or any of our protective products. Your LION turnout gear continues to be safe and ready for action…”

Another turnout-gear manufacturer, Milliken & Company, with some 40 manufacturing locations, reminded firefighters the company employed “over 100 PhD’s” and had “more than 5,000 patents worldwide.” They published their white paper that they hoped showed firefighters how safe their equipment was because they did not use PFOA any longer. In fact, they boasted that they had begun substituting other chemicals instead. As if that would reassure everyone.

“The gear manufacturers were misleading everyone of course,” Diane said. “This was 2017. Turnout gear is expensive. It costs more than two-thousand dollars. Most firefighters, including Paul, were using older turnout gear, manufactured years before,” she said. “The public statements never referred to what the manufacturers were using earlier when the gear the veterans wore was manufactured. They never admitted the firefighters were historically and currently at risk.”

“Paul’s own gear was five-years old and manufactured during the height of the industry’s use of PFOA and PFOS,” Diane said. “I wanted to get it tested, and I went to the Union to ask their help.”

She sent more than 100 emails without a response. During the IAFF Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C., March 3-8 2017, IAFF L1314 President Jason Burns brought the matter to the attention of IAFF’s Patrick Morrison, the Health, Safety and Medicine Assistant for General President Harold Schaitberger.

In response, the IAFF responded with a shockingly supportive statement of the equipment manufacturers: “It is unlikely that PFOA is present in any significant concentrations in uncontaminated new or recently US manufactured turnout gear” and that “even if present on outer shell treatments or within the moisture barrier of legacy turnout gear the exposure contribution from any such PFOA content is likely to be minimal since volatilization from the manufactured product would be required.”

“There was no science here,” Diane says. “Harold just took the word of DuPont's scientists. He wasn't critical. He was too eager to please the company that was filling his union's coffers.”

There was no way the IAFF would pay for testing, Diane's husband Paul told her. “I wondered why the union didn’t protect my husband” Diane said. “It was obvious my husband and other firefighters were being poisoned by chemicals. And we needed answers. Why didn’t they even want to test? Paul was always protecting others. Why wasn’t anybody protecting him? I was so angry. Someone had to find out what was really in my husband’s turnout gear.”

Read Part Four: DuPont Buys You Lunch, Gives You Cancer

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