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Several manufacturers face a class action lawsuit over firefighting foam, which contained dangerous chemicals that contaminated drinking water supplies in a West Virginia community, exposing residents to a risk of cancer and other injuries.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on April 29, by Mike Stengel, Sondra Maragugilio and a minor identified only by the initials C.S., indicating that drinking water in the City of Martinsburg was contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from years of spraying aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to fight fires at the nearby West Virginia Air National Guard base.
3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, L.P., The Ansul Company, National Foam, Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Co., Chemguard, E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co. and The Chemours Co., LLC are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which alleges the manufacturers knew or should have known about the risks associated with firefighting foam, which would cause an unacceptable risk of harm for area residents.
The firefighter foam lawsuits seeks class action status to pursue compensatory damages for medical monitoring and personal injuries suffered those exposed to the contaminated drinking water, which had high levels of PFAS detected since at least 2014, according to the complaint.
AFFFs have been widely used at military bases and by some civilian firefighting organizations throughout the United States. They are classified for use on petroleum-based fires which cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone.
“Defendants collectively designed, marketed, developed, manufactured, distributed, released, trained users, produced instructional materials, sold and/or otherwise handled and/or used AFFF with knowledge that it contained highly toxic and long lasting PFASs, which would contaminate Plaintiffs’ blood and/or body with PFAS, and the resultant biopersistence and bioaccumulation of such PFAS in the blood and/or body of Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.
While this is a class action lawsuit seeking damages for all those in Martinsburg who were exposed to the contaminated water and now seek medical monitoring and damages for the levels of PFAS now in their blood, there is also a growing number of individual lawsuits being filed nationwide by those who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, including kidney cancer and testicular cancer, following years of close contact with the foams, such as civilian and military firefighters.
Film-Forming Foam Health Concerns
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.
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 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 firefighting foam exposure lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.