Aqueous Film Forming Foams, or AFFF, are frequently used by firefighters to extinguish fires that are hard to fight, especially fires that contain flammable liquids like petroleum. Some formulas of AFFF contain perfluorochemicals (PFCs), a chemical class that has raised numerous safety issues.
PFOS is a common PFC that’s used in firefighting foams. It is a fluorine-based chemical that’s highly dangerous. So dangerous that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked the levels of PFOS and PFOA to liver and immune deficiencies and cancer, and poses a risk to fetuses during a woman’s pregnancy or to infants who are breastfed.
Several regions of the world have either eliminated or restricted the use of AFFF and developed safer alternatives. Meanwhile, the United States’ current fire regulations for airports and military installations are outdated, and have contaminated water in rural communities and endangered the health of firefighters who are still using these hazardous products.
Health Risks of Firefighting Foam
Man-made polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl elements (PFAS) are chemical compounds found in many of the products consumers use, including cleaning products, paints, waxes, polishes, and nonstick products. Aqueous Film Forming Foam could contain perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctane acid (PFOA).
There are two specific categories toxic firefighting foams fall into: Class A and Class B. Class A foams extinguish fires that are caused by plants, paper, and wood, while fires caused by flammable liquids such as jet fuel, oil, and gasoline are put out using Class B foams, which could contain PFAS chemicals.
Some PFAS chemicals can accumulate and potentially stay inside a person’s body for a long time. High concentrations of PFOS, PFOA, or PFAS can, over time, accumulate in the body if a person is constantly exposed to these chemicals. A number of negative health effects including bladder, kidney, and testicular cancers, as well as an increased risk of thyroid disease, are possible.
There are significant concerns that firefighting foam discharge also poses a threat to the environment. When these foam solutions reach domestic or natural water systems, significant concerns are raised regarding persistence, biodegradability, toxicity, nutrient loading in soils, and treatability of wastewater treatment facilities.
AFFF solutions with PFCs are used repeatedly in one spot for a long period of time, as fire is commonly found in chemical plants, refineries, airports, and training areas. PFCs, in turn, can move into the groundwater and soil from the foam. Nearby public and private wells have a significant chance of being affected as well. These extremely toxic PFCs can build up easily in a person’s body or in the ecosystem.
Firefighting Foam Used for Training Purposes
Civilian as well as volunteer firefighters are potentially at risk from exposure to PFAS because, during both actual fires and training fires, they are continuously exposed to AFFF. The detrimental effects of firefighting foam have caused concerns all across the United States.
In 2016, the Department of Environmental Conservation surveyed facilities across the New York metropolitan area regarding the type of firefighting foam that contains PFOS. According to data from that study, 31 training facilities said that they used Class B firefighting foam for training purposes. 19 other facilities either currently or have formerly stored it on-site.
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, experts have become increasingly concerned about the potential environmental and health risks surrounding PFAS-based firefighting foam that’s being stored and used in over 300 fire departments all across the state. Connecticut’s state fire administrator, Jeff Morrissette, says it’s hard to know how much of the foam is currently being used to train firefighters or fight fires. Health and environmental experts agree that it’s frequently being used all over Connecticut and could pose serious risks to the environment and the water people drink. Morrissette’s agency plans to roll out stricter guidelines for restricting the usage of PFAS foam by training centers and fire departments. The current draft of the overhauled guidelines includes a statement from state officials that strongly recommends that fire departments halt the use of PFAS foam for firefighter training.
In Los Angeles, Biomonitoring California conducted a study which demonstrated that firefighters were using elevated levels of PFAS and PFOS chemicals. Edwards Air Force Base in California had the highest levels of contamination on base. Only a small portion of their testing has been carried out off-site. Edwards Air Force Base is a large aircraft testing facility located north of Lancaster in the high desert. 24 contaminated sites on the base detected high concentrations of heavily sprayed firefighting foam. According to a 2018 contractor’s report to the Air Force, soil samples concluded that the contamination level reached over 18,000 parts per trillion, which is 250 times higher than the threshold set by the EPA at a training site where firefighters used the toxic foam to practice extinguishing flames.
In Florida, firefighting training sites were tested for PFAS contamination during the last year. Based on reports from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, three of the training sites had increased levels of PFAS. Tests performed at Indian River State College showed PFAS contamination in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, and in the soil. At Palm Beach State College and Palm Beach Fire Rescue, high levels of PFAS were found in groundwater and in the soil. The Associate Dean of Public Safety for Palm Beach State College told local news agencies that student firefighters had been using PFAS foam for years in their simulations, at least once every semester. Once the college received a PFAS report from the state of Florida in the fall, Barbara Cipriano, the Associate Dean, switched to a safe soap for all firefighter training going forward.
Civilian and volunteer firefighters alike are filing lawsuits related to cancer caused by firefighting foam. Their claims come after they suffered from a variety of disorders and cancers due to prolonged exposure to the chemicals. Claims have been filed by plaintiffs against chemical manufacturers and the federal government, holding them responsible for their failure to prevent illness and injury and for warning people about likely exposure risks.
Product liability attorneys have filed cancer lawsuits related to firefighting foam. They argue that the AFFF firefighting foam that was used for training purposes contained both perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) chemicals which have been linked to cancer, groundwater contamination, and other health issues.
Contact Our Firefighting Foam Lawyers
If you, or a loved one, were a civilian or volunteer firefighter and suspect that you have developed a serious illness such as cancer from long exposure to toxic firefighting foams either during training or in the field, you may have grounds to claim compensation.
Call the Eichholz Law Firm to discuss your legal options against the manufacturers of PFAS containing contaminants. You can reach our legal team at (855)-551-1019 or fill out an online contact form.