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Firefighter Foam Water Contamination Lawsuit Filed By California Airport

A California airport district has filed a lawsuit against numerous chemical and safety equipment manufacturers, alleging that chemicals from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFFs) used to fight fuel-based fires have caused water contamination.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Monterey Peninsula Airport District in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on October 1, indicating that 3M Company, Dupont, BASF and numerous other defendants should be required to pay for the investigation, removal, remediation, disposal, treatment and monitoring of surface water, groundwater and soil in the district.

The lawsuit comes following a 2019 investigation into the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water, soil and sediment at the Monterey Regional Airport, which has been traced back to the use of the firefighting foam during training and response exercises.

Since the 1960s, AFFF has been widely used at military bases, airports and by some civilian firefighting organizations, due to its ability to resist grease and heat. It includes the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), known collectively as PFAS, which are toxic and known to build up in the body over time, increasing the risk of cancer and other injuries.

“PFOA and PFOS have been detected at Plaintiff’s Property at levels that are substantially greater than the current State and Federal Advisory Levels,” the lawsuit notes. “The detection and/or presence of PFOA and PFOS, and the threat of further detection and/or presence of PFOA and PFOS, in Plaintiff’s Property in varying amounts and at varying times has resulted, and will continue to result, in significant injuries and damage to Plaintiff.”

PFAS chemicals are projected to take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have shown their ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through air, dust, food, soil and water.

Previously studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population. However, the levels of exposure among firefighters using the film-forming foam are substantially higher.

The complaint filed by the airport joins other water contamination lawsuits being pursued by residents residing around certain military bases, airports and other locations where AFFF was regularly used. In addition, a number of firefighting foam lawsuits have been filed individual firefighters who were diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in cases brought throughout the federal court system, the film-forming foam litigation has been centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

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