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Air Force Veteran Files Firefighter Foam Exposure Lawsuit Over Kidney Cancer Diagnosis from Water Contamination on Military Base

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A product liability lawsuit filed by an Air Force veteran alleges exposure to toxic firefighting foams on a military base led to the development of kidney cancer years later.

Jeffrey Clark, of Oregon, filed the complaint (PDF) on May 26 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, pursuing damages against various safety equipment and chemical manufacturers named as defendants, including 3M Company, National Foam, Inc. Kidde, Tyco Fire Products, LP, buckeye Fire Equipment Co. Chemguard, Inc. Dynax Corporation, UTC Fire & Security America, DuPont, The Chemours Co. and Corteva, Inc.

According to the lawsuit, Clark joined the U.S. Air Force in 1981, and was stationed at Norton Air Force Base (AFB) in California from 1985 through 1987. During that time, he used and drank the water on the base, which was later found to be contaminated with high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); which are toxic chemicals found in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) that were widely used on the military base during firefighter training and response exercises.

In 2011, Clark was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and had to undergo a partial right nephrectomy. His lawsuit claims he was unable to learn about the link between his water consumption on the base, the contamination, and his kidney cancer, until 2020.

“Due to the years of active concealment and misrepresentations by the Defendants, the Plaintiffs herein injured by AFFF and its toxic compounds could not have discovered facts sufficient to put them on notice of the actual grounds for their injuries nor the parties responsible for those injuries specifically including those members of the armed services,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants were required to adequately warn – and they deliberately did not.”

Experts indicate that PFAS chemicals contained in the firefighter foam may take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have highlighted their 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 the 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.

Clark’s complaint joins a growing number of firefighter foam lawsuits filed nationwide by former service members, civilian firefighters and residents living near military bases or chemical plants, all involving claims that cancer and other ailments were caused by exposure to PFAS from AFFFs.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the cases, the federal litigation is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where it is expected that a small group of “bellwether” cases will be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims. However, if settlements or another resolution for the lawsuits is not reached following coordinated pretrial proceedings, hundreds of individual claims brought by firefighters and others may later be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate jury trials.

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