How clean is clean? Research Foundation receives AFG funding to find out

Four-phase project will scientifically identify what’s needed to adequately clean personal protective equipment (PPE)

September 23, 2015 – Between fighting fires and responding to other emergencies, fire fighter personal protective equipment (PPE) is exposed to a wide range of toxic chemicals, biological pathogens and other hazardous substances. It’s well recognized that these contaminant exposures can pose significant risks to fire fighters’ immediate and long-term health, but knowing what’s needed to adequately remove them from PPE has yet to be fully determined.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (Research Foundation) recently received nearly $900,000 in Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) funding to find out. Over the next three years, the four-phase project will work to scientifically identify and establish procedures that measure how effectively cleaning processes remove contaminants from fire fighter PPE.

 “Cancer is a leading concern for fire fighter health and is presumably linked to fire ground exposures and associated PPE contamination,” said Casey Grant, executive director of the Research Foundation. “The ultimate goal of this project is to find out whether existing practices are truly removing those contaminants from PPE so we can better protect fire fighters from related risks.”

While general cleaning procedures have been established in NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, more science is needed to support, clarify and enhance them. Grant notes that recent incidents like the Ebola outbreak reinforce that we don’t know what it scientifically takes to remove air- and blood-borne pathogens that first responders also come in contact with.

A separate, initial phase one research study has already started to address preliminary elements of this issue, which has focused on gathering information to identify persistent chemical contaminants in fire fighter PPE and how these contaminants can be best characterized. Phase one funding was provided by NFPA and a consortia of industry sponsors. The latest AFG-funded research study will supplement and further expand the scope of the initial phase one effort, and will also provide the resources to evaluate different cleaning processes, address biological contaminants, and develop specific guidance for the fire service in completing phases two through four.

The project will be conducted in coordination with multiple partners, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which hosts one of the leading research facilities in the country. “Fire fighters play a vital role in protecting our health and well-being during emergencies, and ensuring their health and safety is a priority to us,” said Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH. “We look forward to working with the Research Foundation on this important project, and to finding definitive measures for minimizing fire fighters’ risk and exposure to PPE contamination.”

Other project partners include Intertek Testing Services, the current Research Foundation contractor for phase one, and International Personnel Protection, Inc. The project team will also work with current providers of fire fighter clothing cleaning services and utilize a panel of fire service representatives for technical advice.

About the Fire Protection Research Foundation
The Fire Protection Research Foundation plans, manages, and communicates research on a broad range of fire safety issues in support of the NFPA mission. The Foundation is an affiliate of NFPA.

About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information visit All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at

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Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1 617 984-7275