Firefighter Cancer Lawsuit Filed Over Exposure to AFFF Fire Fighting Foam

  • Written by: Austin Kirk

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A product liability lawsuit filed by a former Nevada firefighter claims exposure to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) led to the development of prostate cancer, due to toxic chemicals contained in the firefighting foam.

Joseph Planck and his wife, Launa, filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on June 5, indicating his years of using fire foam as a Clark County firefighter led to his cancer diagnosis.

The lawsuit names numerous manufacturers and distributors of AFFF fire fighting foam as defendants, including 3M Company, Johnson Controls International, Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, Buckeye Fire Equipment, National Foam, Inc. Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company, the Chemours Company, Corteva, Inc., Archroma Management, Arkema, Inc., AGC Chemicals America, Daikin America, Dynax Corporation, Amerex Corporation, Clariant Corporation, BASF, National Ford Chemical Company, Narchem Corporation, The Ele Corporation and Deepwater Chemicals, Inc.

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used at military bases and by some civilian fire fighting organizations throughout the United States to fight petroleum-based fires which cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone. The lawsuit indicates that the AFFF foam is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use, since it contains Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which are cancer-causing chemicals that are collectively known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Planck indicates he was exposed to the foam as a firefighter at Clark County Fire Station from 1981 until his retirement in 2003. During that time, he used AFFF during routine training. He was also stationed at McCarran National Airport, where the flame-retardant foam was used even more frequently, the lawsuit claims.

“At no point during his trainings or career did he receive any warning that Defendants’ AFFF containing PFOA and/or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals was toxic or carcinogenic,” the lawsuit indicates.

The lawsuit alleges the firefighter’s prostate cancer diagnosis in June 2018 was a direct and proximate result of exposure to the chemicals, which resulted in the need for surgery to have his prostate removed the next month.

PFAS 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.

In addition to firefighting foams, PFASs are chemical substances used to manufacture a number of products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. The firefighting foam has been regularly used at military bases nationwide over the past decade during routine fire extinguishing exercises, and is increasingly used by civilian firefighters.

The 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 the air, dust, food, soil, and water. Previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could likely be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.

In June 2019, a federal investigation found that PFAS chemicals are commonly found in numerous food products, including meats, seafood, chocolate, cake and other products. However, the FDA released a statement indicating that the levels found do not raise health concerns, based on the best available science.

According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, exposure may also suppress the immune system and limit the ability of the body to create antibodies in response to childhood vaccines.

In December 2018, all fire fighter foam lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.


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  1. kevin Reply

    I was involved in firefighting for 28 years. The last ten years primarily as a ARFF firefighter. Many many hours training and using AFFF. In April I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. All the years as a professional firefighter I ran at least 5 miles a day and worked out three times a week. I had no signs or symptoms of prostate cancer, I had to have a CDL physical exam and it was suggested I have a PSA test as I was 64 years old. I had never heard of a PSA test but took it and my levels were thru the roof. Going to start treatment tomorrow and dreading it. I am bitter that I have this desease.

  2. Reinhardt Reply

    With 98% of the population having some PFAS, it must be an explosion of prostate cancer cases. First, it must be demonstrated a direct relation between AFFF and this demandant having prostate cancer.

    But shit happens and his case could have occurred even without him being a FF…ambulance chaser case.

  3. Julius Reply

    Was a firefighter for 34 years and used affiliate all the time

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