Firefighting is a dangerous occupation for a variety of reasons but a discovery linking firefighting foam to cancer has added yet another source of harm to that list. Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a widely used fire suppression tool in many cases where water is not viable but chemicals in this substance such as PFAS are considered toxic and carcinogenic.
Firefighters and others incidentally exposed to AFFF have been found to be at immense risk of suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses. If you are a firefighter with a history of exposure to AFFF or have been exposed to this substance in another setting then consider contacting an AFFF lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation to cover the damages suffered because of AFFF-related illnesses such as the resulting medical bills and loss of wages.
What is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)?
When most people think of firefighters in the course of their work they usually picture the use of firehoses spraying water to douse rampant flames. In most cases, firefighting relies on this tried and true method of combatting a blaze but there are some instances where water is not a viable option.
In cases where there are fires involving certain chemicals, the addition of water can exacerbate the situation. In situations such as these, firefighters turn to aqueous film-forming foam more commonly known as AFFF. This substance is sprayed onto fires and smothers the flames until they are suppressed and extinguished.
AFFF is usually purchased in a concentrated form that is mixed with water. It comes in 3% or 6% variations depending on the ratio of water in the mixture. AFFF has been used since the 1960s when it was invented for use by the military primarily as a fire suppression tool for fuel fires.
AFFF has been used extensively since then and only now is being phased out after its connection to cancer risk was discovered. The phaseout of this product’s use by the military is supposed to be completed by 2024 and many civilian institutions have since discontinued use as well.
In order to make AFFF foamy and give it its trademark film that can smother fires, AFFF manufacturers utilize per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Chemicals
PFAS is a controversial set of chemicals that have come under immense scrutiny due to their connection with an increased risk of cancer and their durability which has made them a serious environmental and public health problem.
These chemicals have been used since the 1950s in a variety of applications where their waterproof and durable characteristics have been of great use. You can find PFAS in a wide range of products including solvents, food packaging, clothing, and furniture.
PFAS are manmade fluoropolymers that resist heat, oil, grease, and water which is useful but is offset by the fact that they take an extremely long time to break down in the environment, can move through soil and contaminate water sources, and can accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people that are exposed.
The persistence of PFAS chemicals has led to them being nicknamed forever chemicals. The fact that these chemicals can easily find their way into food and water supplies is bad enough but this is made worse by the fact that PFAS accumulation in the body can cause significant disruption that can affect organ function and even lead to cancer.
AFFF and PFAS Chemicals
The two most common forms of PFAS in firefighting foam are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and/or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Both have been linked to cancer risk and are considered toxic. Several companies have pledged to phase out use of PFOS and PFOA but they are far from completely abandoned and old PFOA and PFOS still persist in the environment to this day.
AFFF PFAS Toxicity
PFAS found in AFFF is the primary reason why firefighting foam is so hazardous to your health. PFAS can build up in a person’s body over time and not break down at all. Research is still ongoing to determine the full effects of PFAS on people’s health but so far the conclusion is that PFAS is carcinogenic and also causes disruption of many organ functions.
Exposure to AFFF is hazardous but incidental and isolated cases of exposure alone are not enough to cause cancer. Touching some AFFF foam alone will not immediately cause severe health issues although it is heavily recommended that any exposure to the substance is avoided. Cancer risk and other health issues become a concern when one is repeatedly exposed over a long period of time such as during an occupation such as firefighting.
Who is at Risk for AFFF Exposure?
AFFF is primarily used by firefighters and they consequently are the highest at risk for dangerous levels of exposure. Firefighters in general are exposed to dangerous substances in the course of their work and despite the use of protective equipment, small amounts of exposure over the course of a career can add up and have a significant health impact.
Firefighters can come into contact with AFFF while directly using it on a fire, while preparing it for use, during cleanup, and even just handling equipment that has become covered in the substance. Part of AFFF’s function is to leave a film on surfaces it comes into contact with in order to not just smother a flame but also keep flammable surfaces from igniting again. This has posed a problem since this also contributes to its resilience and pervasiveness that makes exposure more likely.
AFFF Exposure Among Other Demographics
While firefighters are the most at-risk group for harmful AFFF exposure, others also can come into contact with AFFF in sufficient amounts and recurrence that it poses a health risk. Military personnel are at high risk for AFFF exposure since it is commonly used in military settings such as in airfields and ships to fight potential fuel fires. Airport personnel can also be at risk for contact with AFFF since it is also highly utilized in this setting as well.
Exposure to Persistent AFFF in the Environment
AFFF is made with forever chemicals which make it resistant to breaking down safely in the environment. AFFF that is not properly disposed of can easily seep into the water table and end up in the bodies of wildlife and people. Areas that see the regular use of AFFF like military bases, airports, and firefighter training facilities have been registered as having dangerous levels of PFAS in the water.
People that live in the vicinity of sites where AFFF is used repeatedly are at an increased risk of exposure to harmful PFAS that can increase cancer risk among other serious health effects.
Illnesses Connected to AFFF Exposure
AFFF is most notably tied to an increase in cancer risk. The following are the most common types of cancer that have been tied to AFFF exposure.
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
In addition to these various types of cancer, people with long-term exposure to AFFF are likely to develop a number of other illnesses that include:
- Fertility issues
- Fetal and child developmental disorders
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disease
AFFF Lawsuits Against Manufacturers and Other Liable Parties
Firefighting foam is a product that put firefighters at an unnecessarily high risk to develop severe health problems. Firefighters do work with a number of dangerous materials but the failure of manufacturers to fully disclose the potential health risks associated with normal AFFF use was extremely negligent and caused widespread harm to people dedicated to saving lives.
Firefighters, emergency responders, and military personnel that have been diagnosed with any of the aforementioned illnesses associated with AFFF exposure have since taken legal action to seek compensation for the damages they have suffered due to AFFF exposure.
There are hundreds of product liability lawsuits that have been filed against 25 different companies such as DuPont, 3m, Tyco, and Chemguard that manufacture and sell AFFF products. The sheer number of federal lawsuits has led to the creation of a multidistrict litigation (MDL-2873) in South Carolina overseen by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel. This MDL consolidates the many claims and makes pretrial proceedings more efficient while also allowing better coordination of plaintiffs and defendants.
Damages Related to AFFF Exposure
Those harmed by AFFF suffer severe losses to their financial, physical, and even emotional quality of life. These losses caused by AFFF exposure are considered damages in a product liability lawsuit that’s goal is to make the plaintiff whole by attaining sufficient compensation from the party liable for said damages.
These damages can be economic and involve tangible financial losses like medical bills. Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering can also be claimed in AFFF lawsuits despite not having an easily attributable dollar value. Some potential damages involved in these lawsuits include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Lost earning ability
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent disability
- Loss of consortium
How an AFFF Lawyer Can Help
Seeking an experienced personal injury lawyer can mean the difference between the success and failure of an AFFF lawsuit. These lawsuits involve high-profile defendants with the resources to mount a strong defense. An AFFF lawyer can provide those harmed by AFFF exposure the means to level the playing field and dramatically increase a plaintiff's odds of attaining the full value of compensation they deserve.
With the assistance of an AFFF lawyer, you can rest easy knowing that your case is in the hands of a professional litigator with a vested interest in seeing you made whole again. Personal injury attorneys do not just offer legal advice and represent you in mediation and court. They also provide a number of resources and services that can make the process of filing a lawsuit much more convenient for those coping with demanding injuries or illnesses.
Your AFFF lawyer will help you through the process of filling out and filing the necessary documentation. They can also assist in determining what damages you can claim and calculate their value. Most of all, their knowledge and negotiating skills will be at the forefront to get you a settlement that can properly cover the full extent of your damages. If need be, then they can also assist you in taking your case to court and representing you effectively.
Contact an AFFF Cancer Lawyer About Your Firefighting Foam Lawsuit
Consider contacting a personal injury lawyer specializing in AFFF lawsuits as soon as possible. Getting an attorney on your case as soon as possible is within our best interest to better improve the potential amount of compensation and more effectively prepare your case.