Air Force Firefighter Developed Prostate Cancer Due To Fire Foam Exposure, Lawsuit Claims

A former U.S. Airforce firefighter has filed a lawsuit alleging exposure to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used to fight petroleum fires led to the development of prostate cancer.

Ellis Duncan filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District South Carolina on August 23, blaming his cancer diagnosis on the conduct of a number of companies responsible for the development and sale of the firefighting foam, including 3M, BASF Corporation, DuPont and others.

For decades, the Defendants manufactured and sold fire foam products containing a number of different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds, including perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which are commonly described as “forever chemicals” since they are persistent, toxic, bioaccumulative and do not naturally breakdown.

According to the lawsuit, Duncan served as a firefighter in the Air Force from 1977 through 1981 and was stationed at several Air Force bases during his tenure in the service, where he was frequently exposed to AFFFs in both training and actual firefighting situations. As a result of the fire foam exposure, Duncan indicates he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August 2020.

“Plaintiff used and was exposed to Defendants’ AFFF throughout his years of service as a firefighter with the United States Air Force,” the lawsuit states. “At no point during his trainings or career did Plaintiff receive any warning that Defendants’ AFFF containing PFOA and/or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals was toxic or carcinogenic.”

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

Duncan’s lawsuit joins hundreds of similar firefighter cancer lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals directly exposed to the chemicals while spraying the products during training or response exercises, indicating that the toxic chemicals caused various injuries, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.

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 which 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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