Report Finds That AFFF Impact Has Been Underestimated

Report Finds That AFFF Impact Has Been Underestimated
polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

In recent years, awareness has grown around the dangers of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), commonly used in firefighting. This synthetic foam contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are linked to various health issues, including cancer. 

Despite ongoing litigation and increasing scrutiny, an alarming recent report suggests that the true impact of AFFF on public health and the environment may have been significantly underestimated.

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New Study Highlights Underestimated PFAS Impact

PFAS Impact

A recent study published in Nature Geoscience reveals that the global impact of PFAS contamination may be significantly underestimated. The study analyzed over 45,000 samples of surface and groundwater worldwide, showing widespread exceedance of safety limits for PFAS like that found in AFFF. This underscores the pervasive nature of PFAS pollution and the need for enhanced monitoring and regulation.

Key Findings of the Study

  • Global Contamination: PFAS contamination is widespread, with many regions exceeding regulatory safety limits.
  • Underestimated Impact: Current monitoring practices may underestimate PFAS levels due to limited testing of all PFAS compounds.
  • Source Identification: High contamination levels are associated with industrial sites, airports, and military bases where AFFF is heavily used.
  • Regulatory Challenges: Varying regulatory standards globally complicate efforts to address PFAS risks and contamination. 

The study emphasizes the need for updated regulatory guidance and improved monitoring practices to better capture the full range of PFAS present in the environment. It also calls for a broader assessment of PFAS in consumer products to predict and manage their future environmental impact more accurately.

What is AFFF?

Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) are firefighting agents used to extinguish liquid fuel fires. They contain PFAS, a large family of man-made chemicals characterized by strong carbon-fluorine bonds. They have unique properties that make them resistant to heat, water, and oil, which has led to their widespread use in things like firefighting foams, non-stick cookware, and water-repellent clothing and fabrics.

Forever Chemicals

PFAS remain in the environment and the human body, posing significant health risks. Their persistence has earned PFAS the nickname forever chemicals.

Some of these properties include:

  • Environmental persistence: The strong carbon-fluorine bonds make PFAS extremely stable and resistant to breakdown by natural processes. They can persist in the environment for decades or even centuries.
  • Bioaccumulation: PFAS can accumulate in living organisms, including humans, and tend to build up over time as they are not easily metabolized or excreted.
  • Widespread contamination: Due to their extensive use and persistence, PFAS have been found in water sources, soil, air, and even remote locations far from their origin.
  • Difficulty in removal: Traditional water and waste treatment methods are often ineffective at removing PFAS, making them challenging to eliminate from contaminated areas.

The persistence and potential health concerns associated with PFAS have led to increasing regulatory scrutiny and efforts to phase out their use in many countries. However, their long-lasting nature means that even if production were to cease entirely, these chemicals would remain in the environment for an extended period.

What Illnesses Associated With AFFF Exposure Have the Class Action Identified?

The initial bellwether cases in the AFFF personal injury litigation appear to focus on four conditions.

As of December 12, 2023, the Initial Personal Injury Bellwether Discovery Pool consists of 25 plaintiffs with the following claims:

  • 5 individuals claiming kidney cancer
  • 8 alleging testicular cancer
  • 8 with claims of hypothyroidism/thyroid disease
  • 4 asserting cases of ulcerative colitis

However, many other types of cancer and illnesses have been linked to AFFF exposure in scientific studies, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, and others. The litigation may expand to include more conditions as it progresses.

Other Health Risks Associated with PFAS Exposure

Exposure to PFAS is also associated with various health issues, including:

  • Liver Damage: Potential for liver disease and dysfunction.
  • Immune System Effects: Reduced vaccine response and immune system suppression.
  • Hormonal Disruption: Interference with thyroid function and reproductive hormones.
  • Developmental Effects: Adverse impacts on fetal development and growth in infants.

AFFF Class Action Lawsuit

The AFFF class action lawsuit centers on the potential health risks associated with firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals. Firefighters and others regularly exposed to AFFF who have been diagnosed with cancer may seek compensation through this legal action.

The lawsuit has been consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL) in the U.S. Federal Court for the District of South Carolina. This consolidation allows a single judge to oversee all related federal cases, potentially streamlining the legal process and working towards a global settlement.

Most Recent Class Action Update

Class Action Update

As of July 2024, the number of plaintiffs in the AFFF lawsuit has grown significantly, reaching over 9,000 active cases. This marks a substantial increase from previous months, indicating the widespread nature of the issue and growing awareness among potential claimants. 

Recent filings include cases from various states, with plaintiffs alleging a range of health issues linked to AFFF exposure. For example, a volunteer firefighter has filed a lawsuit claiming that his thyroid disease resulted from AFFF exposure during his service at multiple fire departments. 

The lawsuits generally target AFFF manufacturers, arguing that these companies knew or should have known about the potential health risks associated with PFAS-containing firefighting foam. Plaintiffs seek compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages related to their AFFF exposure and subsequent health issues. 

As the litigation progresses, it may set important precedents for how PFAS-related health claims are handled in the U.S. legal system. The outcome of this class action could have significant implications for both the firefighting community and the chemical manufacturing industry.

History of the AFFF Class Action Lawsuit

The Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) class action lawsuit has its roots in the discovery that prolonged exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam can cause various types of cancer and other health issues. As scientific evidence mounted, linking PFAS to serious health concerns, affected individuals began seeking legal recourse. 

In 2018, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPMDL) consolidated all federal AFFF lawsuits into a class action Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in the District of South Carolina, under Judge Richard M. Gergel. This consolidation aimed to streamline the legal process for the numerous cases filed across the country. 

The litigation involves two primary groups of plaintiffs: individuals (mostly firefighters) who developed cancer after occupational exposure to AFFF, and municipalities claiming water supply contamination. As the case progressed, the number of plaintiffs grew steadily, reaching over 6,000 by mid-2023. 

Bellwether Cases

Throughout 2022 and 2023, the court focused on selecting bellwether cases and establishing a framework for trials. The first bellwether trial, involving a water contamination case from Stuart, Florida, was scheduled for June 2023 but was postponed due to settlement negotiations. 

A significant development occurred in June 2023 when major defendants, including 3M, DuPont, and Chemours, reached preliminary settlement agreements totaling over $12 billion to address water contamination claims. However, these settlements did not resolve the personal injury claims, which continued to be a focal point of the litigation. 

The court appointed a settlement mediator in late 2022 to facilitate global settlement discussions. Throughout 2023, the litigation saw continued case filings, ongoing discovery processes, and preparations for bellwether trials for personal injury cases. 

As the litigation progressed, the court narrowed its focus to four primary conditions for the initial bellwether pool: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease/hypothyroidism, and ulcerative colitis. This selection was made to streamline the process and establish precedents for future cases. 

The AFFF litigation has been marked by complex scientific debates, extensive discovery processes, and ongoing negotiations between plaintiffs and multiple corporate defendants. It has also sparked broader discussions about environmental contamination and corporate responsibility in manufacturing and using PFAS-containing products.

PFAS and AFFF Regulations at Federal and State Levels

The growing concern over the health and environmental impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has prompted significant regulatory changes at both federal and state levels. These changes aim to address the widespread use of PFAS, including those found in Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF).

Federal Regulations

Federal Regulations

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken several steps to address PFAS contamination:

  • PFAS Strategic Roadmap: In 2021, the EPA announced a comprehensive plan to address PFAS contamination, including setting enforceable drinking water limits for certain PFAS compounds.
  • Drinking Water Standards: In March 2023, the EPA proposed the first-ever national drinking water standard for six PFAS compounds, including PFOA and PFOS commonly found in AFFF.
  • PFAS Reporting Rule: The EPA has proposed a rule requiring manufacturers to report their use of PFAS, which would provide more comprehensive data on these chemicals' prevalence.
  • CERCLA Designation: The EPA has proposed designating certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which would facilitate cleanup efforts.

State-Level Actions

Many states have taken proactive measures to regulate PFAS, often implementing stricter standards than federal regulations:

  • Drinking Water Standards: Several states, including New Jersey, Michigan, and Vermont, have established their own maximum contaminant levels for various PFAS in drinking water, often lower than federal guidelines.
  • AFFF Bans: States like Washington, Colorado, and New Hampshire have banned the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams for training purposes and are phasing them out in other applications.
  • Product Restrictions: Some states, such as Maine and California, have passed laws banning PFAS in various consumer products, indirectly affecting AFFF production and use.
  • Mandatory Testing: States like Michigan have implemented comprehensive PFAS testing programs for public water systems, helping to identify contamination sources.
  • Clean-up and Remediation: Several states have established funds and programs specifically for PFAS remediation efforts, particularly around military bases and airports where AFFF was heavily used.

Will the Recent Supreme Court Chevron Ruling Affect PFAS and AFFF Regulation?

The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Chevron case could indeed have significant implications for PFAS and AFFF regulation. Here's an analysis of how this ruling might affect these regulations:

Background on the Chevron Ruling

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo effectively overturned the long-standing Chevron doctrine. This doctrine, established in 1984, had given federal agencies broad authority to interpret ambiguous statutes. Under Chevron, courts generally deferred to an agency's reasonable interpretation of a law it administers.

Potential Effects on PFAS and AFFF Regulation

  • Reduced EPA Authority: The EPA has been at the forefront of PFAS regulation. With the Chevron doctrine overturned, the EPA's ability to interpret and implement environmental laws related to PFAS and AFFF may be significantly curtailed.
  • Increased Legal Challenges: Companies producing or using PFAS-containing products like AFFF may have more grounds to challenge EPA regulations in court. Without Chevron deference, courts will now interpret statutes themselves rather than deferring to agency interpretations.
  • Slower Regulatory Process: The EPA may need to be more cautious and thorough in crafting regulations, anticipating stricter judicial scrutiny. This could slow down the process of implementing new PFAS and AFFF regulations.
  • Congressional Action: The ruling may push Congress to be more specific in drafting environmental laws, potentially leading to more detailed legislation on PFAS and AFFF.
  • State-Level Impact: As federal regulations become more vulnerable to legal challenges, states may take on a more prominent role in regulating PFAS and AFFF. This could lead to a patchwork of varying regulations across the country.
  • Scientific Justification: The EPA and other agencies may need more robust scientific evidence to support their regulatory decisions, potentially leading to more comprehensive studies on PFAS health impacts.
  • Regulatory Uncertainty: The ruling introduces uncertainty into existing and proposed PFAS regulations, which could affect ongoing cleanup efforts and future regulatory plans.
  • Judicial Interpretation: Courts will now have more power in interpreting environmental statutes. The outcome of PFAS and AFFF regulations could vary depending on individual judges' interpretations.
  • Industry Influence: Without Chevron deference, industry stakeholders may have more opportunities to shape PFAS regulations through legal challenges and direct engagement with lawmakers.
  • Long-term Regulatory Strategy: Agencies like the EPA may need to rethink their long-term strategies for regulating emerging contaminants like PFAS, potentially focusing more on building consensus and gathering irrefutable scientific evidence.

While the full impact of the Chevron ruling on PFAS and AFFF regulation remains unclear, it introduces new challenges and complexities into the regulatory landscape.

This development underscores the importance of staying informed about both legal and scientific developments in the ongoing AFFF litigation and broader PFAS regulatory efforts.

Who Can Join the AFFF Lawsuit?

Individuals who have been exposed to AFFF and subsequently diagnosed with cancer or other related illnesses may be eligible to join the class action lawsuit. This includes:

  • Firefighters: Both current and former, professional and volunteer, who have used AFFF.
  • Military Personnel: Those exposed to AFFF on military bases.
  • Airport Workers: Individuals working at airports where AFFF was used.
  • Industrial Workers: Those in industries where AFFF is used for fire suppression.
  • Residents Near Contaminated Sites: People living near areas where AFFF was regularly used and who have developed related health conditions.

Steps to Take if Affected

If you believe you have been affected by AFFF exposure, seek a comprehensive medical evaluation to document any health issues related to PFAS exposure. You should also contact a lawyer specializing in AFFF litigation to discuss your case and determine eligibility for joining the lawsuit. 

Collect any relevant evidence, including employment records, medical records, and documentation of AFFF use in your area. If you join the lawsuit, your attorney can keep you up to date with developments in the AFFF litigation and settlement negotiations.

Do You Have an AFFF Exposure Claim?

The underestimation of AFFF's impact has severely affected many, particularly firefighters and others regularly exposed to these hazardous chemicals. 

As awareness grows and legal actions progress, affected individuals need to seek legal and medical advice to protect their health and rights. The fight for justice in the AFFF litigation is ongoing, and staying informed is key to navigating this complex issue. 

AFFF lawsuits highlight the serious health risks associated with PFAS exposure and the ongoing legal efforts to hold manufacturers accountable. Enhanced monitoring, stricter regulations, and public awareness are crucial to mitigating the risks posed by these persistent chemicals. If you believe you have been affected by AFFF exposure, seek legal guidance to explore your options for justice and compensation. Call (866) 535-9515 to speak to a lawyer about the class action lawsuit or contact us online for a free case review.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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