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Several companies face a growing number of product liability lawsuits involving firefighters and those who lived near military bases, who allege chemicals in firefighting foam resulted in the diagnosis of cancers and other injuries.
In one of the recently filed cases, James Williams, Jr., of Vermont, indicates he developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma and testicular cancer from aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) used during his career as a firefighter.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on April 2, naming 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., Chemours Company, Chubb Fire, Ltd., Corteva, Inc., Du Pont De Nemours Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde, National Foam Inc. Tyco Fire Products, and United Technologies Corporation as defendants, indicating that the manufacturers of AFFFs still deny their products are dangerous, despite years of scientific research and massive environmental damage and water contamination.
The firefighting foam contains chemicals known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are toxic and carcinogenic. The use of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) at military bases and among firefighters became widespread throughout the United States in recent decades, but may have caused many firefighters to develop cancers and other injuries.
“PFAS binds to proteins in the blood of humans exposed to the material and remains and persists over long periods of time. Due to their unique chemical structure, PFAS accumulates in the blood and body of exposed individuals,” the lawsuit states. “PFAS are highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Defendants knew, or should have known, that PFAS remain in the human body while presenting significant health risks to humans.”
Williams’ lawsuit indicates he used, and was exposed to, AFFFs to fight fires on a regular basis. The lawsuit indicates the defendants never warned him about the health risks, and that he was not given protective gear sufficient to guard against exposure.
The lawsuit presents claims of negligence, battery, inadequate warning, design defect, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, breach of warranty and wantonness. Williams seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.
Firefighting AFFF Exposure Lawsuits
3M Company, Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard, Inc. already face dozens of similar fire-fighting foam lawsuits filed by both individuals and municipalities nationwide, each involving allegations PFAS have contaminated water sources nationwide or caused specific injuries for firefighters.
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.
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 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 firefighting foam exposure lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.