Firefighting Foam Lawsuit
What is Firefighting Foam?
Firefighters stationed at airports and military bases have typically used a certain type of foam that is chemical-based and is most effective at extinguishing fires. The official term for this type of foam is aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF. Fire needs oxygen to burn and this foam works by creating a covering that cuts off oxygen to the fuel. The chemicals typically used to smother fires were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, and are still used in some places.
According to the American Cancer Society, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain PFAS substances may possibly contribute to the development of cancer. Chemicals in the PFAS class have been categorized as “emerging contaminants”. This rating is issued for substances that are likely hazardous to human health.
A number of fire departments around the country no longer use firefighting foam that contains PFAS. However, the military still uses this dangerous foam at its bases. A far-reaching impact of the use of firefighting foam is the effect on individuals who have never even handled the substance. The dangerous chemicals have entered local groundwater, thereby seeping into and contaminating public drinking water supplies.
Complications and Side Effects of Firefighting Foam
The types of cancer connected to PFAS include:
- Testicular cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumors
There are other severe side effects possible from being exposed to the hazardous chemicals found in firefighting foam. They include:
- Immune system damage
- Fertility complications
- Impaired growth in children
PFAS is a highly durable substance that can stay in an individual’s body for years, because it does not break down.
Who Could Potentially be Harmed by Firefighting Foam?
United States military firefighters are at great risk of harm because the cancer-causing foam has been used by the military since the late 1960s. In addition, any firefighters who were assigned to protect airports are at high risk due to the required use of this foam at airports up until 2018.
The dangerous compounds were first produced by 3M and found their way into the manufacturing process of a number of different chemical products. Unfortunately, the dangerous compounds linger and persist almost indefinitely in the environment, causing an untold amount of danger to human health.
If individuals spent time in certain areas, they and their families may have been adversely affected. These areas include:
- Oil refineries, bulk fuel storage farms, terminals
- Chemical plants
- Firefighter training areas
- Flammable liquid processing and storage facilities
- Military airport hangars
- Aircraft crash sites
More than 400 military sites have been identified by the Department of Defense as being potentially contaminated by the toxic compounds in firefighting foam. A federal inquiry was conducted in 2018 and concluded that PFAS is even more dangerous than previously thought. The discovery prompted a revision of guidelines regarding safe exposure levels. Lawsuits have been brought against manufacturers and allege a failure to properly warn users of the toxic dangers of exposure to firefighting foam chemicals.
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection made an announcement that the state has filed suit in court against manufacturers who for decades produced and sold toxic firefighting foam products in the state. The lawsuit alleges consumer fraud and environmental claims, declaring that manufacturers made and sold to firefighters hazardous products containing toxic chemicals while knowing the environmental and health risks posed when the chemicals get released into the atmosphere.
Claims Against Manufacturers of Firefighting Foam
Some residents who live near various military bases, plus some civilian workers and veterans, have filed lawsuits involving firefighting foam after experiencing cancer and other health disorders. Legal claims have been filed against chemical manufacturers and the federal government alleging these entities should have warned users about exposure risks to help prevent illness and injury.
Class action lawsuits have been filed using attorneys who specialize in toxic tort and product liability cases. The lawyers claim the firefighting foam that many Air Force and other military bases use contains perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, both of which are linked to cancer cases, groundwater contamination, and other health concerns. Personal injury, environmental damage, and product liability lawsuits have been filed against:
- 3M Co.
- The Ansul Co.
- Angus Fire
- National Foam
- The Buckeye Fire Protection Co.
- United Technologies Corp.
- Tyco Fire Products
Firefighting Foam Review by the Department of Defense
Upon entering office as Secretary of the Department of Defense, Mark Esper immediately created a task force to determine the military’s obligation regarding these “forever chemicals,” dubbed as such because of their persistence environmentally. Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan spearheaded a request to find out how long the department has been aware that PFAS is hazardous to human health, how military brass will address the cleanup of these toxins, and how the government intends to take care of communities and service members adversely affected by PFAS.
Lawmakers have previously made a number of efforts to force the military to make greater strides in addressing PFAS. This includes adding measures into the defense policy act requiring a stop to the military’s use of firefighting foam ladened with PFAS. The decision by the DOD’s Office of Inspector General to evaluate the military’s response may result in the evaluation process becoming a road map of sorts for the department. It could also help satisfy lawmakers who want to be sure that any monies allocated for cleanup are going for just that purpose.
The expectation is that the military’s financial liability will be higher than the original estimate of $2 billion. Already, the Air Force has found it necessary to divert $66 million that was supposed to go for other purposes and, instead, put the money toward cleanup tied to PFAS.
Ban on Firefighting Foam
In the Senate, a bill banning PFAS-containing firefighting foam was introduced by Robert Cowles of Green Bay last year. The bill’s provisions would only allow the use of such foam in an emergency or for testing under specified conditions. In addition, rules will have to be implemented to stop discharges of the toxic chemicals into the environment and to prevent discharge into any wastewater treatment plants. The bill has the backing of first responders, local governments, and even the industry.
The state of Washington passed a law in 2018 that banned PFAS-containing foam, but gave certain exemptions for places like oil facilities and chemical plants, plus airports where federal law allows the use. The state is now considering full elimination of any exceptions. The state of New York placed a ban on the manufacture, sale, use, or distribution of PFAS-containing foam and equipment, unless there is absolutely no alternative available.
Representation for Victims of Firefighting Foam
The Eichholz Law Firm has long been a voice in the legal system for individuals who are injured and who can’t turn back the hands of time to a period before they were seriously harmed by a toxic substance or a dangerous product. Money, no matter the amount, can’t take away the pain suffered nor recreate lost time. We do know, however, that a fair financial award of compensation can help cover costs and financial obligations that have arisen from an injury caused by toxic substances and someone else’s negligence.
If the information in this article has resonated with you and described the harm you have suffered, we want to talk with you. If you or someone in your family was diagnosed with lymphoma, leukemia, neuroendocrine tumors; or kidney, bladder, pancreatic, prostate or testicular cancer after exposure to the fire suppressant called AFFF, you may be able to hold the manufacturer responsible for the damage caused.
Contact our legal team for a free case evaluation to discuss your legal standing and all options with The Eichholz Law Firm today.
- Danielle Kadling. “Senate Committee Advances Bill To Ban PFAS In Firefighting Foam”, Wisconsin Public Radio, https://www.wpr.org/senate-committee-advances-bill-ban-pfas-firefighting-foam. Accessed February 7, 2020.
- EPA. “Basic Information on PFAS”, United State Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas. Accessed February 7, 2020.
- John Herzfeld and Keshia Clukey. “New York Moves to Ban ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Firefighting Foam”, Bloomberg Environment, https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/new-york-moves-to-ban-forever-chemicals-in-firefighting-foam. Accessed February 7, 2020.
- Marc S. Reisch. “Two states ban PFAS in firefighting foam”, C&EN, https://cen.acs.org/business/specialty-chemicals/Two-states-ban-PFAS-firefighting/97/i16. Accessed February 7, 2020.
- Rebecca Beitsch. “DOD watchdog will review military use of cancer-linked chemical”, The Hill, https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/481247-dod-watchdog-will-review-military-use-of-cancer-linked-chemical. Accessed February 7, 2020.
- DVNF. “PFAS – Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances”, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp. Accessed February 7, 2020.