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Firefighter Files Prostate Cancer Lawsuit Over Exposure to Toxic Foam at Airforce Bases and Working For Civilian Fire Department

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A former firefighter indicates he developed prostate cancer from firefighting foam used at Airforce bases during his military career, as well as while working for a civilian fire department, according to a product liability lawsuit filed against various chemical companies and manufacturers of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) products.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Steve Williams in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on February 4, indicating he was diagnosed with cancer following years of exposure to toxic chemicals known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been used in firefighting foam for decades.

Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) have been widely used during training exercises and in response to certain fuel based fires, with exposure linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and other injuries.

Williams indicates he was exposed to PFAS chemicals in the foam while stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Champaign County, Illinois in 1977, then while he was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1977 until 1981. He subsequently worked as a firefighter for the City of Charlotte Fire Department in North Carolina from 1984 through 2007.

“During this time, he used AFFF containing PFAS in firefighting training and response exercises, and used equipment/gear treated and/or coated with materials containing and/or contaminated with one or more PFAS,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff Steve Williams was exposed to AFFF containing PFAS numerous times over the course of his career, and now has one or more PFAS materials in his blood serum.”

According to the lawsuit, Williams was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, which he indicates was a direct result of exposure to the PFAS chemicals, which are known to build up in the body and take thousands of years to degrade.

PFAS chemicals are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals”, since they have the ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through the air, dust, food, soil, and water.

The toxic chemicals 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.

Williams’ complaint joins a number of firefighting foam lawsuits filed across the nation, all raising similar allegations of the manufacturers failing to warn of the dangerous PFAS, which have resulted in those exposed to develop testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries.

Due to the growing number of lawsuits over firefighting foam injuries brought throughout the federal court system, centralized pretrial proceedings have been established in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where the parties are engaging in coordinated discovery and preparing for a series of early “bellwether” trials designed to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated in claims brought by firefighters nationwide.

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