Our nation’s firefighters have earned the right, without exception, to know what the potential environmental health risks are that impact their community. As with any important public health issue, it’s critical the facts prevail, and that credible science guides the debate in determining potential actions necessary to ensure their safety.  

Firefighter leaders, rightfully, are taking an active role on these important issues. As a representative voice of thousands of courageous men and women, they play an important part in raising awareness for firefighter health and advocating to fix the root cause of the health problems confronting this community.

Recently, however, some firefighter leaders have associated firefighter health issues with factors that have not been credibly linked. They have singled out the use of plastic piping in buildings, including PVC, claiming that emissions from these materials create a greater risk to firefighters when they’re burned, despite scientific evidence showing other causes may be to blame.  

Facts show that all combustible materials, including wood, will yield toxic and carcinogenic byproducts when involved in an accidental fire. And the evidence points to other causes – including diesel engine exhaust – as contributing to cancers in firefighters.

What’s more, certain metallic alternatives to vinyl piping actually increase the risk of flame spread.  Ductile iron pipe, for example, has an asphaltic coating that’s highly flammable.  By contrast, PVC pipe doesn’t spread flames, not to mention it is lighter weight, far easier to use, doesn’t require welding – and outlasts competing materials.

That’s why PVC pipe has been the material of choice for builders in residential and commercial construction for decades, because it’s known for delivering safe, reliable and affordable service.

Firefighter leaders have a unique opportunity to speak out, call for action -- and work passionately, and collaboratively, to help fix firefighter health problems. And they have every right in the world to demand answers for their colleagues who face dangerous conditions each and every day on the job. 

Likewise, those on the front lines deserve to have the facts regarding the environmental risks they face in order to best protect their health and safety.