Expert panel to discuss PFAS in firefighting gear with documentary film screening

Author: Jessica Sieff

ND Experts

Graham Peaslee

Graham Peaslee

Experimental Nuclear Physics

Burned Event Screengraphic
Graham Peaslee talks with firefighters

On April 29 (Saturday), the University of Notre Dame will host a screening of “BURNED: Protecting the Protectors” — a short documentary exploring the link between perfluorinated substances, known as “forever chemicals,” and decades of cancer in the firefighting community.

The screening will take place at the DeBartolo Performing Art Center’s Browning Cinema at 6:30 p.m.

The film follows the story of Diane Cotter, whose husband, Paul, a firefighter of 27 years at the time, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Cotter’s concern led her to question the materials used in Paul’s gear.

Her persistence led her to Graham Peaslee, professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Notre Dame. Peaslee’s research found fabric used for firefighter turnout gear tested positive for the presence of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), a toxic class of fluorine compounds called “forever chemicals.”

Peaslee and his lab have found PFAS in a growing list of industrial and consumer products including cosmetics, school uniforms and fast food wrappers. His research was further explored in Notre Dame’s What Would You Fight For? series.

Burned Interview W Rob Bilott 1

The screening will be followed by a moderated Q&A to discuss the issue of PFAS in firefighter gear and the making of the film with Peaslee alongside the film’s director, Elijah Yetter-Bowman, and Rob Bilott, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

Bilott has gained international prominence in connection with uncovering and disclosing the worldwide impact of environmental contamination by PFAS, particularly PFOA and PFOS — and has secured benefits in excess of $1 billion for a wide array of clients adversely impacted by PFAS contamination, including through key leadership positions in the nation’s first-class action, personal injury, medical monitoring and multi-district litigations, and jury trials involving PFAS.

Yetter-Bowman is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of Ethereal Films, whose work focuses on interdisciplinary action to address major social issues.

In 2022 the studio released “Angel of Alabama,” the story of Brenda Hampton, an investigator who, through her expertise and passion for justice, identified the source of massive environmental contamination in Alabama. Hampton’s efforts led to a permanent water solution in her community, and her efforts have resulted in international progress — including policy changes at fast food giant McDonald’s.

Elijah And Mark 2
Yetter-Bowman and producer Mark Ruffalo

The discussion will be moderated by Jennifer Tank,the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences and director of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative.

This is a free but ticketed event.

Tickets may be reserved at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center online or by calling the ticket office at 574-631-2800. Tickets will be available for pickup at the ticket office one hour prior to the performance.

To guarantee your seat, pick up your tickets at least 15 minutes prior to the show. In the event of a sell-out, unclaimed tickets will be used to seat patrons waiting on standby.




Contact: Jessica Sieff, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-3933,