Fire Foam Exposure at Air Force Base Led To Kidney Cancer, Veteran’s Lawsuit Alleges

Exposure to aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) used to fight fires on military bases led to the development of kidney cancer, according to a product liability lawsuit filed by a U.S. Air Force veteran.

Michael Sion filed the complaint (PDF) on June 16 in federal court in South Carolina, alleging that his cancer diagnosis came as a result of exposure to toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in firefighter foams commonly used on base during training exercises and firefighting events.

The lawsuit names 3M Company, Chemguard, Inc. DuPont and several other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers involved in the production or sale of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) as defendants, indicating Sion was exposed to the chemicals during his time on March Air Force Base in California.

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The facility has been identified as an Air Force base contaminated with high levels of PFAS in the soil and water, and Sion also has elevated levels of the same chemicals in his body, according to the complaint.

Sion joined the Air Force in 1967, and was assigned to March AFB from 1986 to 1987, the lawsuit indicates. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2012, and underwent a partial left nephrectomy. However, the cancer came back, requiring he undergo a left tumor ablation in 2014. The lawsuit notes Sion was unable to link his kidney cancer to his time on the base until information released in mid-2020.

“Due to the years of concealment and disinformation by the Defendants, parties injured by AFFF and its toxic compounds would not have discovered facts sufficient to put them on notice of the actual grounds for their injuries nor the parties responsible for those injuries until recently, specifically including those members of the armed services,” Sion’s lawsuit states. “Defendants knew there was a direct causal connection from exposure to the toxic chemicals and impairment of human health. Accordingly, the complained of damages as sustained by Plaintiff were wholly foreseeable to Defendants.”

March AFB has a PFAS environmental contamination level of 43.390 parts per trillion: many times higher than the safe recommended level of 70 parts per trillion set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the firefighter foam can 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.

Sion’s complaint joins a growing number of fire foam cancer 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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