Firefighter’s AFFF Lawsuits Strengthened by New PFAS Skin Absorption Study

Study found toxic PFAS chemicals used in AFFF firefighting foam, turnout gear and other products can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream.

A new study provides strong evidence that toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can be absorbed through the skin, which will bolster lawsuits being pursued by firefighters nationwide who developed of cancers and other injuries following exposure to the “forever chemicals” in firefighter foam and turnout gear.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances, which are widely used to resist grease, oil and water. However, they are known to persist for decades, and exposure to the chemicals has been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and other side effects.

Most of the current PFAS health concerns stem from water contamination problems in communities throughout the U.S., which were caused by large volumes of the chemicals in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used by the military and firefighters for decades to fight fuel-based fires. During training and response exercises, these PFAS chemicals have been dumped into the environment and local water supplies, particularly around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, causing many individuals to experience side effects after directly ingesting the chemicals in their drinking water.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products now face thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers and individuals diagnosed with various types of cancer. However, the companies also face AFFF lawsuits brought by firefighters, indicating they developed injuries after the chemicals were absorbed through their skin.

Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

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Lawyers are reviewing aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) lawsuits for firefighters, military personnel and individuals who developed cancer or other health issues from exposure to toxic firefighting foam chemicals.

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In this latest study, researchers from the University of Birmingham in the U.K., led by Oddný Ragnarsdóttir of the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, report that experiments have confirmed that PFAS can be absorbed directly into the human body through the skin. Their findings were published this month in the scientific journal Environmental International.

Ragnarsdóttir and his team assessed the skin absorption of 17 different PFAS, using in vitro 3D-human skin equivalents. They looked at PFAS that were absorbed, unabsorbed, or retained within skin tissue.

“Interestingly, while longer chain PFAS were not directly absorbed, a large fraction of the exposure dose was detected within the skin tissue at the end of the exposure,” Ragnarsdóttir states in the report. “This was most apparent for perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA) and perfluorononane sulfonate (PFNS) for which 66.5 % and 68.3 % of the exposure dose was found within the skin tissue, while neither compound was detected in the absorbed fraction.”

The researchers found that the longer the carbon chains, the less was found within the skin tissue.

“Based on the data presented in this study, dermal exposure could be a significant source of exposure for some PFAS, especially the shorter-chain PFAS,” the researchers concluded. Thus, the dermal route should not be dismissed as a possible route of human exposure to PFAS.”

Firefighter AFFF Lawsuits

The findings provide additional scientific evidence for firefighters’ AFFF cancer and injury lawsuits, all of which are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, given common questions of fact and law presented.

To help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the remaining lawsuits, Judge Gergel issued a case management order last year, which directed the parties to prepare a group of 28 PFAS injury claims to serve as a bellwether pool, which will be prepared for a series of early trial dates.

However, the initial bellwether trials will focus on plaintiffs who say they were exposed to PFAS through drinking contaminated water, as opposed to AFFF skin exposure claims brought by firefighters.

When those lawsuits do come up for trial, it will be essential for firefighters to prove that exposure to AFFF, which they are often doused with in both training exercises and actual firefighting events, can cause cancer. As part of that, they must show a scientifically valid route of exposure to explain how PFAS got into their bloodstreams.

While the outcome of these early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other claims, it is expected that the amount of any PFAS exposure lawsuit payout awarded by juries may influence future firefighter cancer settlement negotiations to resolve the litigation.

1 Comments

  • DonaldJune 27, 2024 at 8:57 pm

    Leukemia and blood cancers such as multiple myeloma are reported in Long Island communities exposed to PFAS foam chemicals found in drinking water but are not included in lists of included cancers.

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