firefighters pants toxic, firefighters uniform toxic, firefighters antimony

Firefighters’ Pants May Be Toxic

January 15, 2009 11:33 AM
by Denis Cummings
Firefighters in Boca Raton, Fla., who suffer from symptoms of heavy metal poisoning allege that a chemical in their uniform pants is to blame.

Antimony in Pants Blamed for Illnesses

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is opening an investigation into the safety of firefighters’ uniforms containing antimony trioxide, a chemical compound used as a flame retardant. The CDC is responding to a request by the city of Boca Raton, Fla., where at least 50 firefighters have shown signs of heavy metal poisoning after years of wearing pants made with antimony.

“There’s no doubt that the pants caused us to be sick,” Capt. John Luca told the Palm Beach Post. “I think it’s widespread.”

The city has replaced the pants with nontoxic cotton pants, but has yet to process workers compensation claims because city officials doubt that the pants are to blame. “We don’t have any evidence of a safety issue, but out of an abundance of caution we have changed out the pants while the matter is being investigated,” said Deputy City Manager George Brown to the Post. “We have no evidence that there’s any link between the pants and heavy-metal poisoning.”

Fechheimer Brothers, the company that manufacturers the pants, says that it has never received a similar complaint. Antimony trioxide is a common chemical in firefighters’ uniforms and other flame-retardant textiles.
Protective clothing expert Jeffrey Stull told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., that the chemical can “leach out” over a long period of time, and cause damage through inhalation or absorption through the skin.

The Charleston fire department recently purchased the same brand of pants used in Boca Raton after Charleston’s polyester uniforms were shown to melt in high heat. The city, like Boca Raton, is awaiting the results of the CDC’s report before it takes action.

Background: Antimony

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, long-term, low-level exposure to antimony can cause “eye irritation, hair loss, lung damage, and heart problems,” as well as some “problems with fertility.” High levels of exposure, which are not ordinarily a risk for firefighters, can “irritate your eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers.”

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