Firefighter Foam Cancer Lawsuit
Our attorneys can help you file an AFFF Lawsuit no matter where you’re located in the United States.
Exposure to chemicals found in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) commonly known as “firefighting foam,” has been linked to various forms of cancer. If you have been a firefighter or are regularly exposed to AFFF and have recently been diagnosed with kidney, pancreatic, prostate, or testicular cancer, you may have the opportunity to pursue legal action and receive financial compensation.
The Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPMDL) has mandated the consolidation of all federal lawsuits related to AFFF in the United States Federal Court, located in the District of South Carolina. As of June 2023, there are over 3,300 plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit. Consequently, a single judge will preside over all AFFF firefighting foam cancer lawsuits in federal court. This development is seen as a crucial initial stride towards achieving a comprehensive resolution regarding firefighting foam on a global scale.
Our dedicated AFFF lawyers are committed to keeping you informed about the latest updates pertaining to the lawsuit. Our team of attorneys remains up-to-date on the most recent developments in the MDL AFFF class action, including the defendants’ recent motion for summary judgment.
What is aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)?
Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a fire suppressant. Firefighters use the foam to put out difficult fires started by Class B materials, like petroleum and other flammable liquids. AFFF contains fluorinated surfactants, of which PFAS is the active ingredient. Mixing the foam with water creates an aqueous film that cuts off all oxygen from the fire. By cutting off the oxygen supply, the foam extinguishes the fire and prevents it from restarting.
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Firefighter Exposure to AFFF
Firefighter Foam Carcinogen: What is PFAS?
Known as forever chemicals, perfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA and PFOS. There are actually hundreds of PFAS, however, PFOA and PFOS are the most popular. The chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. PFAS is made up of two subgroups:
- Perfluoroalkyl substances
- Polyfluoralkyl substances
Unfortunately, despite a partial phase-out by the United States, these chemicals continue to exist in the environment, as well as in living organisms, including humans. PFAS are resistant to even the most advanced water treatment technologies. They persist the way they do because of the chemical bond between the carbon and fluorine atoms. The bond between carbon and fluorine atoms is extremely strong and stable.
Why are firefighters at greater risk for PFAS exposure?
The main reason firefighters face greater PFAS exposure is the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). In addition, PFAS chemicals are also used to make firefighter gear water and oil resistant. Firefighters are also exposed to PFAS by:
- Handling equipment contaminated by AFFF
- Managing PFAS foam wastes
- Occupying contaminated fire stations
- Burning household items
What health risks associated with AFFF should firefighters know about?
In 2019, an International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) expert panel found that firefighters who used AFFF had elevated blood levels of both PFHxS and PFOS (types of PFAS). Studies have found multiple health issues related to PFAS exposure:
- Low infant birth weights
- Liver and kidney effects
- Reproductive and developmental effects
- Thyroid disruption
- Immunological effects
- Raised cholesterol levels
In 2015, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published results for a multi-year study on the increased risks of firefighters and cancer. In a study of 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, NIOSH found that firefighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths than the general population. In addition, the study found that younger firefighters developed more cases of certain types of cancer. Cancers associated with PFAS exposure include:
- Neuroendocrine tumors
What are the PFAS risks to women firefighters?
Women firefighters account for around 5% of firefighters nationwide. While studies on women firefighters are limited, there is evidence that suggests these brave women face elevated risks of breast cancer. A study from the NCBI found that perfluorinated compounds in the blood increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Many of the chemicals found in the bodies of women firefighters have been linked to mammary carcinogens in animal toxicology studies.
Understanding the health effects of PFAS in women firefighters is an important part of ensuring the same level of guaranteed rights and protections as male firefighters.
Women firefighters are just as much at risk of developing cancer as a result of PFAS exposure. It is imperative that you have a compassionate PFAS lawsuit attorney on your side who can help you navigate the complexities of a lawsuit.
How can firefighters reduce their PFAS exposure?
While state and federal governments have already taken steps to limit PFAS exposure, firefighters can still follow these guidelines to help keep themselves safe:
- Replace AFFF foam with fluoride-free foam alternatives
- Properly contain AFFF foam to minimize water and ground contamination
- Only wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary
- Use a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) when using AFFF foam
- Thoroughly clean face, neck, and hands immediately after using AFFF foam
- Clean PPE often
- Keep PPE in designated areas
- Maintain suitable storage conditions for all unused foams
- Clean gear lockers regularly
- Shower as soon as possible after using AFFF foam
Who else may have a greater risk of PFAS exposure?
It’s true that firefighters have a greater risk of PFAS exposure, but they aren’t the only ones. Other people, especially those who serve in the military, work at an airport, chemical plant or AFFF manufacturer may have been exposed to greater amounts of PFAS. Additionally, people living near an AFFF application/disposal or site of water contamination may risk PFAS exposure.
Military PFAS Exposure
How did military installation waters become contaminated?
According to the Environmental Working Group, the Department of Defense (DOD) has used firefighting foam for nearly 50 years. The military used the substance for maintenance, testing and training. As a result, these chemicals saturated the soil at hundreds of military installations. In 2003, the Government Accountability Office released a report that as much as 15 million acres of land in the United States was contaminated from munitions.
The firefighting foams were developed in the 1960s by the Naval Research Laboratory with 3M after a fire tore through the aircraft carrier Forrestal. The foam works by blanketing a fire and preventing the vapors from coming up and reigniting.
What is the DOD doing about PFAS chemical contamination in water?
For starters, the military is no longer using firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals for maintenance, testing or training. The substance is now only used for real emergencies. And even in emergencies, the DOD says that they’re cleaning up the substance to ensure it doesn’t get into the environment.
Further, the DOD is using a clean-up process known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability. Representatives from the DOD say that this is a long process that doesn’t happen overnight.
Finally, the DOD is looking into other, safer alternative chemicals to put out fires.
The Government Accountability Office recommended that the DOD revises its comprehensive plan and incorporate the following:
- Establish deadlines for completing deadline and first evaluations
- Reassess the timetable proposed for completing its reevaluation sites
- Establish interim goals based on relative risks and cleanup phases
PFAS isn’t the only concern that military families have to worry about while they are living at different stations. There are more than 2,300 military sites that the DOD has identified contaminated with several munitions.
What is the DOD’s typical contamination cleanup process?
As mentioned above, the DOD typically follows established cleanup action under CERCLA. This process includes the following:
- Preliminary assessment. During this phase, the DOD determines whether or not there is a potential munitions hazard.
- Site investigation. The DOD will send officials to the site and search historical records to confirm the presence, extent and source of the hazards.
- Cost analysis. Once the extent of the contamination is determined, a cleanup plan will be put into action if it is necessary.
- Remedy. Implementation of the cleanup process or other appropriate response will begin.
- Long-term monitoring. There will be periodic check-ins to review the cleanup/remedy process.
FAQs: AFFF & PFAS
What are PFOS and PFOA?
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid are fully fluorinated compounds that do not occur naturally in the environment. Both chemicals are made up of chains of eight carbons. The substances both have a unique ability to repel oil and water. This ability has made them ideal to use in the following products:
- Surface protection products such as carpet cleaning and clothing treatments
- Coatings for paper
- Cardboard packaging
- Leather products
- Industrial surfactants
- Wetting agents
- Additives and coating
- Processing aids
- Nonstick coating
- Electrical wire casing
- Waterproof clothing
- Plumbing thread seal tape
The use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to extinguish fires is largely viewed as a significant source of contamination. PFOS and PFOA were used in the manufacture of AFFF up until 2001. At that time, the primary U.S. manufacturer of PFOS voluntarily phased out production. In 2006, another eight major companies voluntarily phased-out PFASs production.
PFOS and PFOA have been found in drinking water that is typically associated with manufacturing locations, industrial use or disposal.
Where are PFAS found?
As noted above, PFAS doesn’t break down in the body and accumulates over time. There is significant data that exposure to PFAS leads to adverse human health effects. PFAS can be found in the following:
- Food. Produce that is grown in PFAS contaminated soil or water, items that are processed in equipment that use PFAS or packaged in material containing PFAS can all be a source of introduction the chemicals into the body.
- Commercial household products. Fabrics that contain stain and water repellant; nonstick products such as Teflon; polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products.
- Fire-fighting foams. The foams firefighters use are a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases with firefighting training.
- Production or factory jobs. Industry jobs that involve chrome plating, electronics manufacturers and oil recovering that use PFAS.
- Water sources. The runoff from manufacturers, landfills, wastewater treatment plants and firefighting training facilities can contaminate local ground or drinking water sources.
- Living organisms. PFAS can build up in fish, land animals and even humans.
Other places PFAS may be found include pesticides, ink, medical devices, metal plating and hydraulic fluids.
How are people exposed to PFAS?
There are numerous ways that people can be exposed to PFAS, and each way presents varied exposure levels. People can be exposed to PFAS through the following ways:
- Food grown in contaminated soil
- Commercial household products (such as Teflon or other nonstick products, polishes, stain and water repellent fabrics, waxes, paints and cleaning products)
- Firefighter foam
- Groundwater contaminated by firefighter foam
- Living organisms such as fish and animals
Both firefighters and those living near military bases with contaminated water are at the highest for dangerous levels of PFAS exposure.
PFAS exposure in young girls can lead to breast cancer
According to the Environment Working Group, girls exposed to PFAS even at fairly low doses can suffer changes to the structure of the mammary glands and lead to an increased risk in breast cancer. Exposure to PFAS disrupts hormones and has a suppressive effect on the immune system, which increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer.
Children who live on or near a military base may have been exposed through groundwater contamination.
What are acceptable levels of PFAS Chemical Contamination?
Generally, there is no acceptable level of PFAS chemical contamination in any groundwater. However, because the substance is already there, the EPA has issued guidance on acceptable levels.
In 2009, the EPA issued provisional guidance, health advisories and soil screenings on PFAS toxicity values. However, in 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency established a new lower, guideline for acceptable levels of PFOS or PFOA. Under the lowered guideline, PFOS and PFOA levels should be no more than 70 parts per trillion.
While these guidelines aren’t enforceable, the DOD says it will work toward complying with the new standards.
Why did the EPA lower PFAS guidelines?
The EPA issued the health advisory about PFAS chemical contamination levels after its assessment of peer-reviewed science. The goal was to provide those responsible for monitoring water systems updated information on the health risks of these chemicals. Ultimately, the EPA wants to empower agencies to take the necessary actions to protect local residents.
The studies the agency reviewed in its assessment included tests on laboratory rats and mice. Further, the studies were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to these man-made chemicals. The studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects.
What are the adverse health effects of PFAS?
Studies show that PFOS and PDOA are extremely toxic to laboratory animals. The substances affect reproductive, developmental and other adverse systemic effects. Those who have accumulated significant PFAS levels in their bodies are at risk for the following conditions:
- Developmental delays in fetuses during pregnancy or breastfeeding infants
- Low birth weight
- Accelerated puberty
- Skeletal variations
- Cancer (testicular and kidney)
- Liver damage
- Immune deficiency
- Thyroid effects
Exposure to PFAS can occur through eating, drinking, use of consumer products and inhalation. Several other countries have noted the adverse health effects of PFOA and PFOS and have issued water safety standards concerning the chemicals.
If you suspect you have one of these conditions as a result of groundwater near a military installation, contact a qualified PFAS Lawsuit Attorney to discuss your legal options. The Carlson Law Firm is a veteran-owned law firm near one of the largest U.S. military bases in the world. Contact us to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
Dealing with an illness or birth injury can be a difficult time in anyone’s life. However, it’s important to note that companies have a responsibility to comply with federal regulations and protect citizens from potential harm their products can cause. If you or a loved one suspects PFAS chemical water contamination or AFFF exposure led to your injuries, contact The Carlson Law Firm. We have a team of compassionate Mass Torts attorneys dedicated to protecting your rights.
We are currently investigating claims in all 50 states concerning adverse health effects from PFOA and PFOS contaminated water near military installations.
The Carlson Law Firm offers free consultations and works on contingency. In other words, you don’t pay unless we successfully resolve your case. Contact The Carlson Law Firm to discuss your legal options.