Lawsuit Against AFFF Manufacturers Alleges Firefighting Foam Caused Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

A recent study highlighted how AFFF manufacturers intentionally concealed the cancer risks from firefighting foam for decades.

A former firefighter says he and other emergency responders were unknowingly exposed to a risk of cancer from firefighting foam for years, because manufacturers failed to warn about the potential health risks and importance of minimizing exposure.

John Wilkes, a former firefighter from California, filed a complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on July 13, indicating that 3M Company, Chemours, Du Pont, and numerous other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers should be held responsible for his prostate cancer diagnosis.

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for decades by the U.S. military and local fire departments to combat fuel based fires. However, a growing number of firefighting foam cancer lawsuits are now being pursued, each raising similar allegations that the manufacturers failed to disclose the long-term risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contained in AFFF, which have been shown to build up in the body and increase the risk of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and other injuries.

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Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.

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AFFF Manufacturers Knew of Cancer Risks

Wilkes indicates in the lawsuit he regularly used and was directly exposed to AFFF during his career, indicating that toxic chemicals in the firefighting foam caused his prostate cancer diagnosis years later.

“Exposure to Defendants’ AFFF has been linked to serious medical conditions, including, but not limited to, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, liver cancer, testicular tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, bladder cancer, thyroid disease and infertility,” according to the complaint, which points to years of research that establish manufacturers knew or should have known their firefighting foam was endangering emergency response workers and the public at large.

Just last month, a new study was published by researchers who gained access to industry documents held by the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library, highlighting various strategies employed to hide how manufacturers knew about the toxic side effects of PFAS chemicals as early as the 1970s.

It took another another 40 years to for the public to learn about the serious health risks, those researchers determined. Wilkes’ complaint indicates this purposeful deception led to he and many other firefighters developing prostate cancer and other malignancies.

In another recent study, researchers found that firefighters were 60% more likely to die of cancer than the general population, indicating that firefighters were nearly four times more likely to die from prostate cancer, and twice as likely to die from kidney and bladder cancer.

“Plaintiff was unaware of the dangerous properties of the Defendants’ AFFF products and relied on the Defendants’ instructions as to the proper handling of the products,” Wilkes’ lawsuit states. “Plaintiff’s consumption, inhalation and/or dermal absorption of PFAS from Defendant’s AFFF products caused Plaintiff to develop the serious medical conditions and complications alleged herein.”

Wilkes presents claims of negligence, battery, inadequate warning, design defect, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, breach of warranty, wantonness, and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

July 2023 Firefighting Foam Lawsuit Update

The case filed by Wilkes will be consolidated with hundreds of similar firefighting foam lawsuits being pursued in the federal court system, including claims brought by former military and civilian firefighters, as well as claims brought by individuals who lived near military bases where the chemicals were dumped into the environment and local municipalities left to deal with the cost of removing PFAS from tab water supplies.

Given common questions of fact and law presented in the litigation, all AFFF lawsuits are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery, pretrial proceedings and a series of early bellwether trials.

In June, 3M Company and other manufacturers agreed to pay over $12.5 billion to settle PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water suppliers, who were seeking damages for cleanup costs associated with removing the toxic chemicals from local water supplies. However, the companies continue to face individual injury lawsuits brought by firefighters and individuals who drank water known to contain high levels of PFAS chemicals.

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