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A Pennsylvania man who worked as a volunteer firefighter for over 15 years filed a product liability lawsuit, alleging that exposure to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) during training exercises and in response to certain fuel-based fires caused him to develop cancer.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Timothy Sinex and his wife, Melissa, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on July 31, naming several chemical and safety equipment manufacturers as defendants, including 3M company, Du Pount, BASF, Kidde and many others.
Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for decades at military bases and by some civilian fire fighting organizations throughout the United States to fight petroleum-based fires which cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone, containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are known to increase the risk of cancer among humans.
According to the lawsuit, manufacturers failed to warn firefighters about the AFFF foam cancer risks, since it contains Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which can build up in the body and result in a cancer diagnosis years later.
Sinex indicates he frequently worked with AFFF foam during his time as a Pennsylvania firefighter for the Kennett Fire Company and Goodwill Fire Company. As a result of exposure to the toxic chemicals in AFFF, Sinex states his blood serum contains toxic chemicals from AFFF foam, which resulted in his diagnoses with cancer in 2012, and again in 2018.
“Defendants knew or should have known of these hazards when the product was distributed,” the Sinex lawsuit states. “Defendants manufactured, designed, marketed, distributed, and/or sold the AFFF knowing that the PFAS contained in the AFFF presented an unreasonable risk to human health and are inherently dangerous.”
PFAS Health Concerns
PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since then the chemicals have been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
In addition to firefighting foams, PFASs are chemical substances used to manufacture a number of products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. The firefighting foam has been regularly used at military bases nationwide over the past decade during routine fire extinguishing exercises, and is increasingly used by civilian firefighters.
The chemicals are projected to take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have shown their ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through the air, dust, food, soil, and water. Previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could likely be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.
In June 2019, a federal investigation found that PFAS chemicals are commonly found in numerous food products, including meats, seafood, chocolate, cake and other products. However, the FDA released a statement indicating that the levels found do not raise health concerns, based on the best available science.
According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, exposure may also suppress the immune system and limit the ability of the body to create antibodies in response to childhood vaccines.
In December 2018, all fire foam lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.