Air Force Personnel Exposed to AFFF Firefighting Foam Face Increased Testicular Cancer Risks: Study

Heightened risk of testicular cancer among Air Force firefighters was identified, which researchers suspect was due to their exposure to AFFF foam.

A new study suggests that exposure to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) may increase the risk of testicular cancer among U.S. Air Force personnel, adding to a growing body of research that links chemicals in the firefighting foam products to various health risks.

Researchers with the National Cancer Institute in Maryland found that Air Force personnel with high levels of PFAS in their drinking water faced nearly five times the risk of testicular cancer. Their findings were published last month in Environmental Health Perspectives.

AFFF has been used for decades by the branches of the U.S. military to suppress of fuel-based fires. However, the foams contain a number of chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which persist in both the environment and human body for extremely long periods of time, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals”.

Studies have linked exposure to the chemicals to an increased risk of various types of cancer, and there are a growing number of AFFF lawsuits being pursued against more than a dozen chemical and safety equipment manufacturing companies. The claims include allegations that AFFF caused testicular cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and other injuries.

Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Were you or a loved one exposed to toxic AFFF Chemicals?

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, federal researchers looked at 1,060 active-duty Air Force personnel, with half of those being controls. They looked at a number of various different PFAS chemicals, exposure rates, and cancer incidence.

According to the findings, service members who worked and lived on a base with high PFAS concentrations in drinking water were linked to a 4.6 times increased risk of testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT) than service members who were not exposed.

The researchers found the strongest associations were linked to Air Force firefighters, who have regular exposure to PFAS and generally had higher concentrations of PFAS chemicals in their blood. Researchers said this was likely due to their occupational use of AFFF firefighting foam.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted an assessment of PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, indicating 24 installations, with a total population of 175,000, exposed residents to PFAS in drinking water. However, some environmental groups have contested that number, saying at least 116 military instillations are contaminated, exposing more than 640,000 residents to toxic AFFF and PFAS.

“These findings warrant further investigation in other populations and military service branches,” the researchers warned.

August 2023 AFFF Firefighter Foam Lawsuit Update

Given common questions of fact and law presented in thousands of lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers over the cancer risks, coordinated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, where the claims are currently centralized for discovery and a series of early bellwether trials.

Earlier this year, Judge Gergel directed the parties to select a group of 28 representative personal injury claims for an AFFF injury bellwether pool, involving plaintiffs who say they were exposed to chemicals that contaminated drinking water.

These cases will include eight kidney cancer claims, eight testicular cancer claims, eight thyroid disease claims and four ulcerative colitis claims. In addition, they will be limited to individuals alleging they were exposed to contaminated water near Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminister.

While the outcome of these claims will not have any binding impact on the other individual lawsuits the average AFFF lawsuit payout may influence how much manufacturers may pay to settle lawsuits filed by Mitchell and other plaintiffs in the future.

In addition to individual lawsuits, the manufacturers also faced thousands of AFFF water contamination lawsuits by cities, states and municipalities nationwide.

In June 2023, 3M Company agreed to pay over $12.5 billion in an AFFF water contamination settlement, to resolve claims brought by local water suppliers. However, there have not been any reported settlements in AFFF lawsuits brought by former military service members or firefighters, and none of those individual claims have yet gone before a jury.

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