As the aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the District Court of South Carolina progresses, more states are undertaking ambitious measures to decrease the amount of toxic fluorine chemicals like Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their waterways and communities. New Hampshire is leading the charge, forming, in recent weeks, a partnership with Revive Environmental to eradicate the state’s remaining AFFF supplies in the aftermath of a 2019 ban.
Equipped with a novel neutralization technology, Revive Environmental argues that it holds the answer to the formerly baffling question of how to dispose of chemicals that are designed to last centuries. The recent contractual collaboration will serve as a bellwether for future disposal efforts across the country and may prove critical in the current transitional stage between PFAS reliance and fluorine-free products.
Revive Environmental Marketing “Miracle” PFAS Annihilator
When the nonprofit scientific development company Battelle invented a novel technology to purify contaminated water supplies and landfills of AFFF-related PFAS exposure, it decided to advertise its findings. Partnering with Viking Global Investors, Battelle launched the commercial company Revive Environmental and took its technology to market.
The chemicals which overwhelmingly constitute AFFF, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, boast incredibly powerful bonds, which is one reason why they have such long-term persistence and are often dubbed as “forever chemicals”. Revive Environmental claims that its use of supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) can, effectively, break these bonds in a matter of seconds.
SCWO involves the maintenance of a substance at a pressure and temperature level above its critical point, which refers to the highest level at which a substance can sustain a liquid/vapor equilibrium. When rendered supercritical, water is “compressible, highly expandable”, and capable of triggering a series of chemical reactions which, in this context, can destroy PFAS by busting their bonds.
Despite AFFF Ban, Exposure Risk Remains for New Hampshire Fire Stations
New Hampshire was the first state in the country to advance a wholesale prohibition on PFAS firefighting foams in 2019. Although a subsequent flurry of enactments and municipal-level collection campaigns resulted in the consolidation and safe storage of extant AFFF supplies throughout the Granite State, firefighters, legislators, and bureaucrats are anxious to eliminate them outright.
At first, the state-level Department of Environmental Services (DES) was tasked by the legislature to designate a preferred disposal method and/or company. It considered relying upon an incinerator in New York, but rejected the approach for fear of further contributing to air pollution. The alternative option of inhumation at a landfill posed, unsurprisingly, too many risks of groundwater and soil contamination.
Despite the confidence that the state of New Hampshire placed in the continued storage in fire stations of AFFF supplies, the longer the DES took to select a waste disposal method, the more likely “inadvertent use or exposure to these products increase[s]”, said firefighter Brian Ryll to the New Hampshire Bulletin.
Nevertheless, Mike Wimsatt, the director of the Waste Management Division at the New Hampshire DES, told the publication that he was happy to have waited until Revive Environmental developed and introduced its technology. The company has signed a $668,258 contract with New Hampshire, and will “annihilate” 10,000 gallons of AFFF.
If the contract proves successful, Revive anticipates collaborating with other state governments in a similar manner, especially as the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares a set of guidelines to advise or direct states in AFFF clean-up and storage efforts.
AFFF Fire Fighting Foams Employ Toxic “Forever Chemicals”
The primary reason behind the recent efforts to ban or severely restrict the use of aqueous film-forming foams as a staple in fuel fire extinguishment is because of the toxic chemicals that they contain. Essentially, AFFF forms a kind of seal around actively engulfed fuels and thereby deprives them of oxygen.
Until the recent development of fluorine-free firefighting foams, it was thought to be the only effective way in which to put out extensive fuel conflagrations, which made it especially useful for oil refineries, airports, and Army/Naval bases. The unique chemical formula for most AFFFs includes both hydrocarbon surfactants and fluorosurfactants. Together, these chemical chains not only contain a foam-forming composite but are less dense than the oil over which they spread. They can, therefore, remain afloat while also, when mixed with air, creating a frothy foam that coats the fuel.
The Ecological and Health Dangers Posed by AFFF
Unfortunately, the fluorine substances in AFFF firefighting foams are part of a group of highly toxic and non-degradable chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), whose bonds endure in the environment and biological specimens for extended periods of time. Capable of bioaccumulation and biomagnification, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are often referred to as “forever chemicals”.
On account of their widespread use in a variety of domestic products, including select nonstick cookware, they have sufficiently contaminated large swaths of the United States of America, seeping into waterways and polluting topsoil. In the context of extensive AFFF use on military bases, naval vessels, refineries, and airports, however, the contamination is liable to be much higher on account of the frequency with which they are used.
Government Agencies Link AFFF to Cancers and Severe Health Conditions
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a subsidiary of the Department of Health and Human Services, notes that some studies indicate a probable connection between exposure to the toxic PFAS chemicals utilized in AFFF and a host of medical complications, including:
- Lowered immune response
- Decreased vaccine response in children
- Preeclampsia in pregnant women
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased risk of testicular cancer
Research Links AFFF Exposure to Debilitating Health Problems
The lattermost instance is corroborated by a study published in the Environmental Health Perspective which explicitly addresses the connection between occupational risk factors in active servicemen and PFAS-related testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT). Concluding that “elevated PFOS concentrations among Air Force servicemen” was correlated to a heightened risk of TGCT, the study calls for further research to establish a stronger and more substantial causal relationship.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the ATSDR, is currently undertaking extensive research to determine the precise extent to which PFAS chemicals have contaminated American water supplies and endangered millions. Despite the fact that it has yet to release a set of protocol to regulate PFAS use and presence in the environment, it notes that peer-reviewed studies have revealed a potential connection between “forever chemical” exposure and:
- Developmental and hormonal “effects or delays in children”
- Increased cancer risk
- Decreased fertility
- Heightened cholesterol levels
Although the ongoing AFFF litigation involves far more extensive and disturbing allegations of adverse health effects of PFAS exposure, the forthrightness of the ATSDR and EPA indicates a potential change in the bureaucratic landscape as prominent agencies consider the implementation of federal regulations.
Water Suppliers, Firefighters, and Military Personnel Pursue Nationwide AFFF Lawsuits
Beginning in 2018, a variety of individuals claiming that their exposure to carcinogenic AFFF firefighting foams had resulted in the development of serious illnesses and medical conditions filed suit against the major manufacturers and distributors of the firefighting foams. As the number of AFFF lawsuits increased, the U.S. Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) approved their consolidation for pretrial proceedings and transferred the cases to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
Shortly thereafter, 3M, Inc., with whom the United States Naval Research Laboratory had developed the initial formula for AFFF in the 1960s, DuPont, Chemours Co., and others were slapped with a series of lawsuits brought by water suppliers and municipalities. In June 2023, the prominent AFFF manufacturers reached a series of midsummer settlements in AFFF litigation which cost 3M roughly $10.8 billion and DuPont $1.18 billion.
Although the majority of the more than 5,000 AFFF MDL lawsuits have yet to be settled, the early and amicable settlement process with the water suppliers may indicate an eagerness on the part of the liable parties to conclude the legal proceedings at the earliest possible date.
Experienced AFFF Lawyers Can Help
When major manufacturers rely, knowingly, upon dangerous chemical formulae to market profitable products and withhold information of potential risk from the public, we believe they deserve to be held accountable. Firefighters, active servicemembers, veterans, and civilians have all reported illnesses and medical conditions ranging from developmental disorders to cancers originating from their exposure to the fluorine substances contained in AFFF firefighting foams.
Our experienced AFFF lawyers are ready to help. We offer free consultations and can help you to understand the merits of your case, the compensation to which you may be entitled, and the complicated legal landscape of AFFF mass tort litigation. If you believe that your disruptive or debilitating medical conditions may be connected to PFAS exposure, consider contacting us today.