PFAS: In the Schaitberger Tradition

Eric Lamar
6 min readFeb 6, 2023

Diane Cotter joins forces with the IAFF

International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Ed “Edzo” Kelly announced last week that:

the IAFF has retained three nationally recognized law firms to change regulatory standards, demand PFAS-free gear, and be available to be retained by members and families seeking compensation for PFAS-related illness.

According to Kelly, they are “the PFAS law firms” complete with their own website and are the “Official IAFF Legal Team.”

Perhaps it’s just as well that the goal of changing regulatory standards and demanding PFAS-free protective clothing is being outsourced because the IAFF did not show much interest in either area.

Diane Cotter has spent years vigorously pointing out that the IAFF Health and Safety Division under Pat Morrison ignored or soft-pedaled the PFAS threat while the IAFF engaged in pay-to-play schemes referring to DuPont and Lion.

Diane Cotter

Here’s what Morrison’s Health and Safety team had to say about PFAS in 2017:

Fire fighters are exposed to combustion products of consumer goods that were manufactured using PFOA as one of the raw materials (e.g., stain resistant carpets and upholstery). As personal protective equipment (PPE), including self-contained breathing apparatus and turnout gear, provide incomplete protection from inhalation and dermal exposures, if PFOA is a combustion product of these materials, it is likely that fire fighters would absorb the chemical into their bodies during fire fighting operations. Fire fighters exposed to smoke from the World Trade Center disaster had higher PFOA levels compared to those exposed to dust in the disaster and compared to the US general population.

Morrison and crew blamed combustion products for PFAS exposure and even beat the 9/11 drum for good measure. It was defense by obfuscation.

Pat Morrison

Here’s Cotter reacting to the IAFF improperly taking credit for PFAS study funding:

I knew this to be part of the Schaitberger act of ‘slight [sic] of hand’, to look like you are doing something good when in fact you are doing something evil. In my rant I spoke of Schaitberger being a chameleon and hiding the truth from the union members. Worse, in that video Pat Morrison and Rachel Segal of the IAFF H&S team are promulgating the volleyballs and tennisballs dialogue of Lion Gear.

And, here’s how Healthy Living magazine described the IAFF/manufacturer relationship:

The 2018 afternoon session of The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Cancer Summit in Lake Buena Vista Florida, began when Pat Morrison, assistant to the general president, told the audience, many of whom had cancer or knew others with it, to thank the sponsors, DuPont, Tencate, and the rest of the turnout gear manufacturers, who provided their lunch.

Following the conference, the IAFF published an official paper, “Taking Action Against Occupational Cancer,” which detailed the union’s accomplishments in sleuthing the causes of cancer, mentioning firehouses’ need to control diesel exhaust and that combustion products produced by fires reacting with chemicals “in the fire scene environment… settle on turnout gear.”

No mention whatsoever of the chemicals in the gear in which they spend their working day, every day.

Then again, the Cancer Summit’s primary sponsors and supporters were TenCate Protective Fabrics, W.L. Gore & Associates, Globe by MSA, and DuPont Nomex, the very companies producing the turnout gear suspected of exposing union members to powerful, undisclosed carcinogens. And the ties went even deeper.

Given the IAFF’s miserable response to the PFAS issue, which Cotter so comprehensively proved, isn’t it likely that one or more firefighter/IAFF member litigants would sue the union for their role in the debacle?

And what are the chances that the IAFF’s Official Legal Team would represent such a member?

(Can a law firm ethically represent a client when they also have a relationship with a potential litigation target? That seems to be a textbook definition of conflict of interest.)

In fact, any smart IAFF/firefighter litigant would not choose the Official Team as doing so eliminates a party (the IAFF) who has potential serious liability exposure.

The IAFF should have to beat the charge of collusion in a civil court.

The collusion proven by Cotter, including taking funds from fire/rescue manufacturers, eliminates the IAFF from any “white hat” role, whatever Ed Kelly wants us to believe.

Perhaps it’s a cynical view, but one born of experience, that Kelly’s move is actually an attempt to extinguish legal liability from his own members by having the IAFF partner with a law firm when the union is itself part of the problem.

Remember, our union steals money from sick and dying children and monetizing firefighter cancer is solidly in that tradition.

Manufacturers will also be quick to point out that the IAFF not only agreed that PFAS was not a concern but communicated that to their members. They have nothing to lose by yoking themselves to Kelly and his gang.

While the IAFF has long encouraged firefighters to engage with the National Firefighter Registry which tracks cancers, both Kelly and Cotter are now asking members to register with the Official IAFF Legal Team, an act which some would say is tantamount to shilling for ambulance chasers.

Prior to coming on board with the IAFF, Cotter paid dearly for her advocacy work, describing being shunned:

I know it firsthand. After Eric Lamar’s story in October 2018, I would receive a call from the PFFM President Rich Mackinnon, who I had a what I considered a very good relationship with, working on legislation for Massachusetts on this issue and promoting other firefighter related initiatives through my social media pages. Once the article was published, I received a call from President Mackinnon telling me he was ‘very disappointed in me’ that ‘I posted the article from the union hating Eric Lamar’., my response was ‘Rich, you know Schaitberger has dragged his feet on this and hasn’t said one word about it to’ the fleet’. His response, “well we’re not gonna attach our name to you, you’ve made your choice”…

Speaking of shunning, Diane should chat with her longtime friend IAFF vice president Rick Walsh about being shunned by none other than Ed Kelly and other Schaitberger goons. This was back when Kelly was firmly in the Schaitberger camp and doing the Boss’s dirty work. Walsh was called a “rat” by Kelly and was completely iced out because of his interest in an honest union.

Cotter’s advocacy role outside the IAFF was impressive as she exposed double-dealing, corruption and more. Her decision to go inside the IAFF diminishes her reputation, role and effectiveness.

She has relinquished her power to force change and to hold the IAFF accountable.

Little, if anything, has changed: Kelly promoted Pat Morrison, the person she called a liar, to an even more powerful position and the IAFF still takes money from manufacturers and service providers.

Ed Kelly’s sense of loyalty is about as sturdy as Harold Schaitberger’s. If you’re not sure, just give Matt Vinci a call.

(Ask Vinci about being shunned, as well.)

Kelly gets the last word:

“We should all be asking the question of whether firefighter safety took a back seat to corporate interests”

Gosh, Edzo, you tell us — you counted the money as it came rolling in.

Eric Lamar has been an IAFF member for 47 years.

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