MFB and UFU with Macquarie University to partner on world-first PFAS study

26 February 2019

Can regular blood or plasma donations reduce the level of chemicals in firefighter’s blood? That’s the question the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the United Firefighters Union are hoping to answer with an innovative new research project.

MFB and the UFU are today announcing a clinical pilot study into per and polyfluroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The world-first study will focus on the impacts of blood and plasma donation on PFAS levels.

MFB has commissioned Macquarie University to conduct the research, which will be undertaken over a 12 month period, with 350 firefighters and staff participating.

The study has been endorsed by the United Firefighter’s Union which has played a leading role in PFAS advocacy.

The findings will contribute to the existing research, and further inform medical research and decision making.

PFAS are a diverse group of manufactured chemicals resistant to heat, water and oil. They have been used in a range of common household products, including non-stick cookware, fabric and food packaging and in fire fighting foams since the 1950s.

PFAS is still in use in some firefighting foams, meaning that firefighters are exposed to higher levels of PFAS than the general public.

There is a body of research on the adverse impact of PFAS on humans and the environment. Acknowledging this, MFB is taking proactive action to reduce PFAS exposures for firefighters and the community.

MFB was the first fire and rescue service in the world to establish safe PFAS limits for firefighters and successful measureable decontamination programs for appliances and fire fighting equipment.

MFB also uses a fluorine-free firefighting foam which does not contain PFAS.

MFB Chief Officer Dan Stephens said while there is currently no legislation in Victoria restricting the use of PFAS, MFB was taking a precautionary approach in the interest of firefighter’s health and wellbeing and environmental protection.

“MFB takes the safety of firefighters, the public and the environment, extremely seriously,” Mr Stephens said.

“As a modern fire and rescue service, MFB does so much more than fight fires.

“We develop prevention programs, advocate for change, provide expertise and invest in research to improve the lives of Victorians.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville emphasised the importance of the study.

“This world-first research will provide crucial evidence on how best to reduce firefighter exposure to PFAS, and help to inform future decision-making on this issue.”

“We look forward to any developments that will benefit our firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day to keep this state safe.”

United Firefighters Union of Australia National Secretary Peter Marshall welcomed the ground-breaking research.

“Firefighter health and safety is paramount and the health effects of exposures to toxins and carcinogens is one of the most significant risks firefighters face in protecting the community,” Mr Marshall said.

“We welcome the partnership with the MFB, firefighter experts and highly respected academics to achieve this ground-breaking research that will provide new scientific outcomes.  It will be internationally relevant and respected.

“The results of this research will be a significant part in the understanding of the impact of PFAS exposures, but more importantly, may provide a feasible and practical option for reducing PFAS levels.”

Macquarie University Professor Mark Taylor said the study was important for firefighters who have one of the highest exposures to PFAS through their occupation.

“This is the world’s first systematic intervention study to assess the efficacy of using phlebotomy (blood and plasma donation) to lower PFAS levels,” he said.

“As such, it will provide critical insight into possible future treatments.”


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