Firefighter PFAS Exposure

Firefighter PFAS Exposure

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, belong to a large family of man-made chemical compounds. Although they may be found in various consumer products, from nonstick pans to bathroom cleaners, they have recently received national attention due to their alleged link to cancers experienced by firefighters exposed to the chemical. 

According to local news station WGBH, PFAS have been linked to cardiovascular disease and several cancers, including testicular, kidney, breast, prostate, liver, and ovarian cancers. A study published by Rutgers University in theInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” showed that volunteer firefighters have higher levels of these “forever chemicals” than the general population. PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they tend to accumulate in the human body indefinitely. 

“More than 95 percent of the U.S. population have these chemicals to some degree in their bodies, but firefighters have heightened exposure to PFAS through their protective gear and fire suppression foam and the burning materials they encounter that release particles, which can be inhaled or settle on gear and skin,” said Judith Graber, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health, and lead author of the study.

What is AFFF?

Aqueous film-forming foams or AFFFs are synthetic PFAS-containing foams used to suppress and extinguish flammable liquid fires such as fuel fires. AFFF makes up one of two categories of foam used for Class B fires (a flammable liquids or flammable gases fire). Older versions of the substance contained perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) or perluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These chemicals remain in the environment and the human body and do not break down. 

Most Common Places Where AFFFs Are Used

AFFFs are commonly used by public, commercial, and military firefighting organizations. According to the National Library of Medicine, the United States military has the largest stockpile of AFFFs, accounting for 29 percent of all AFFFs in the United States in 2004. AFFFs are typically employed by these organizations to extinguish hydrocarbon fuel-based fires and prevent them from reigniting. 

AFFF Exposure and the Risk of Cancer

According to the Mesothelioma Veterans Center, exposure to AFFF puts an individual at risk for the following cancers: 

  • Bladder
  • Colon
  • Liver
  • Pancreatic
  • Rectal
  • Testicular
  • Breast
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Prostate 
  • Renal or Kidney
  • Thyroid

As research published by the Firefighters Cancer Support Network states, almost 70 percent of firefighters develop cancer, compared with about 22 percent for the general population. 

Health Risks Associated With Exposure to AFFFs

Since AFFFs are synthetic PFAS-containing foam, they pose similar health risks as PFASs, which include cardiovascular disease and several cancers. These forever chemicals accumulate and stay in the body. A high concentration of these toxic chemicals, when combined with long-term exposure, can lead to negative health effects and increases an individual’s risk of developing thyroid disease, and certain cancers. 

Most Common Health Conditions Linked to PFAS-Containing Aqueous Film Forming Foam

According to the United States Fire Administration, the most common health conditions linked to PFAS-containing AFFFs are thyroid disease and testicular, kidney, and bladder cancers. PFAS-containing AFFFs may be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested orally. Long-term exposure increases the risk of an individual developing a serious health condition. 

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to PFASs have also been linked to the following: 

  • Decreased birth weight in infants
  • Immune system challenges
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Liver problems
  • Preeclampsia in pregnant women
  • Reduced antibody response to vaccines, especially in children
  • Testicular, kidney, and other types of cancer (mostly linked to PFOA)
  • Thyroid disease (PFOS)
  • Ulcerative colitis

Indirect AFFF Toxic Exposure From Contaminated Groundwater

Some studies have shown that PFAS from the release of aqueous fire-fighting foams have seemed into our groundwater. This could be due to fluorochemical facilities’ discharges or changes in the direction of environmental soil and water systems. As half the global population relies on groundwater, many individuals may be at risk of AFFF toxic exposure. 

Allegations Raised in Firefighting Foam Class Action Lawsuits

Florida firefighter Debbie Rittinghouse filed a lawsuit in 2020 alleging that exposure to toxic chemicals found in AFFF caused her to develop breast cancer. During that same year, firefighter Lon Holliday, Jr. filed a lawsuit against 3M and other chemical companies, claiming that exposure to AFFF caused his bladder cancer. In similar lawsuits across the country, firefighters allege that exposure to forever chemicals has caused them to develop testicular cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and other illnesses.   

PFOS and PFOA: What You Should Know

Recent studies show that Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulphonate (PFOs), which belong to the family of compounds known as perfluoroalkyl substances or PFASs, may pose an environmental and human health risk. Unlike other contaminants which accumulate in human fatty tissue, these chemicals bind to protein and have an estimated half-life of four years according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

PFOS and PFOAs have been in use in the United States since the 1950s. These chemicals may be found in different products including: 

  • Firefighting foams
  • Pesticides
  • Leather
  • Polishes
  • Adhesives
  • Waxes
  • Paint
  • Protective sprays
  • Cleaning products
  • Carpets and upholstery coatings
  • Carpets
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Cosmetics
  • Grease-proof food packaging
  • Heat resistant tape
  • Non-stick pans

Recent experiments, conducted mostly on animals, concluded that exposure to these synthetic chemicals may have negative effects on human health, including thyroid dysfunctions, delayed puberty, osteoarthritis, increased levels of uric acid, liver problems, changes in cholesterol, and immune disorders.

What Compensation is Available in an AFFF / Firefighting Foam Lawsuit?

Individuals who have experienced injuries, cancers, and other illnesses as a result of exposure to firefighting foams may initiate a lawsuit under the legal category of product liability. Firefighter gear and equipment containing AFFFs and PFASs may be considered defective products if can be proven that they cause harm through a manufacturing, marketing, or design defect. 

A claimant may seek compensation for economic damages, which includes medical expenses related to exposure to forever chemicals, as well as non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, and punitive damages intended to punish defendants and deter them from future negligent behavior. A claimant may also be entitled to compensation for property value loss if toxic chemicals are found in the groundwater on their property. 

Fire Foam Manufacturers/Potential Defendants

In the state of Florida, the attorney general has alleged that fourteen companies have acted negligently when they manufactured and sold Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) that was “discharged into the environment at or from sites throughout Florida.” The suit, filed on April 14, 2022 names DuPont de Nemours Inc., Tyco Fire Products LP, The Chemours Company, and UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Inc., among other manufacturers and distributors. 

Lawsuits initiated by firefighters across the country have also named the following companies in their filings: 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., Chemours Company,  Arkema, Inc., Du Pont De Nemours Inc., Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde, National Foam Inc. Tyco Fire Products, and BASF. Firefighters allege that their turnout gear and firefighting foams contain dangerous forever chemicals that have led to cancer and other serious health complications. 

Any manufacturer of materials containing AFFFs and PFASs may be a potential defendant. 

AFFF FAQs 

  • AFFFs are used to extinguish and secure liquid hydrocarbon fires. 
  • Until May 2000, AFFFs contained the toxic chemicals PFOS and PFOA.
  • Although recently manufactured AFFF no longer contains PFOS and PFOA, existing stockpiles continue to be used. 
  • AFFF containing PFOS and PFOA are toxic to humans, animals, and the environment.
  • AFFF may contaminate groundwater. 
  • AFFF continues to accumulate in the human body over time, potentially causing serious health conditions. 

Is AFFF a Carcinogen? 

AFFFs may be ingested, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled. Long-term exposure may lead to PFAS, PFOA, and PFOS accumulating in the body. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to certain cancers including testicular cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and pancreatic cancer.   

Is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) Toxic? 

According to ConsumerNotice.org, AFFF is considered toxic, especially if it contains PFOS and PFOA. Over time, these chemicals build up in the body and may cause serious illnesses, including cancer. 

What Chemicals Are in AFFF? 

AFFF is a water-based chemical compound and often contains hydrocarbon-based surfactants such as sodium alkyl sulfate, and fluorosurfactants, such as fluorotelomers, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

What is AFFF Used For? 

AFFFs are used to extinguish and contain liquid hydrocarbon fires. 

Do All AFFF Contain PFAS? 

Since May 2000, manufacturers voluntarily began phasing out the use of PFASs in AFFF. Although recently manufactured AFFF does not contain PFAS, previous versions of the chemical compound remain in use today. 

Is PFAS Harmful?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider PFAS a harmful substance, and in a recent review listed several adverse health effects related to PFAS exposure including liver damage, cancer, decreased fertility, and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

Call An Experienced Defective Product Attorney

If you or a loved one have been injured due to a defective product like the chemicals found in AFFFs, call an experienced defective product attorney immediately. Our team of expert attorneys can help you understand your options and navigate the legal process. Call us today at (305) 662-6178 or visit panterlaw.com for a free consultation with a dedicated attorney.

 

Sources: 

https://www.usfa.fema.gov/blog/cb-021120.html

https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2021/09/15/firefighters-blast-decision-to-allow-toxic-pfas-chemicals-to-stay-in-their-gear

https://www.rutgers.edu/news/volunteer-firefighters-have-higher-levels-forever-chemicals

https://dec.alaska.gov/spar/csp/pfas/firefighting-foam/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_B_fire

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390017/

https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/blog/firefighting-foam-asbestos-cancer-risks/

https://www.firefighternation.com/health-safety/usfa-the-hidden-dangers-in-firefighting-foam/#gref

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/index.html

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389421001229

https://panterlaw.com/2022/04/11/firefighter-foam-cancer-cases/

https://www.consumernotice.org/legal/afff-lawsuits/

https://www.environmentalpollutioncenters.org/news/what-are-pfoa-and-pfos-and-how-dangerous-are-they/

https://www.consumernotice.org/news/johnson-controls-settles-pfas-afff-firefighting-foam-lawsuits/

https://www.crccare.com/products-and-services/technologies/matcare/what-is-afff

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefighting_foam#:~:text=Synthetic%20foams,-Synthetic%20foams%20are&text=Aqueous%20film%20forming%20foams%20(AFFF,or%20perfluorooctanesulfonic%20acid%20(PFOS).

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/pfas-health-risks-underestimated/#:~:text=A%20recent%20review%20from%20the,of%20asthma%20and%20thyroid%20disease.

https://panterlaw.com/product-liability/defective-products/

 

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