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Military Firefighter Files Lawsuit Over Kidney Cancer Caused By Exposure to Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF)

Exposure to chemicals in fire-fighting foam resulted in a military and civilian firefighter developing kidney cancer, according to allegations raised in a recently filed lawsuit.

James Edward Oberholtzer, Jr. filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on March 6, indicating that his cancer diagnosis result from years of using, and being exposed to, aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), which he was told were safe. However, in reality, the lawsuit indicates they contained large amounts of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are toxic and carcinogenic.

The lawsuit names 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., Chemours Company, Chubb Fire, Ltd., Corteva, Inc., Du Pont De Nemours Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde, National Foam Inc. Tyco Fire Products, and United Technologies Corporation as defendants, indicating that the manufacturers of AFFFs still deny their products are dangerous, despite years of scientific research and massive environmental damage and water contamination.

“The Plaintiff directly used, was exposed, and/or was given AFFF to help fight fires on a regular basis,” the lawsuit states. “The Plaintiff was never informed that this product was inherently dangerous. Nor was the Plaintiff warned about the known health risks associated with this product.”

Firefighting AFFF Exposure Litigation

3M Company, Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard, Inc. already face dozens of similar fire-fighting foam lawsuits filed by both individuals and municipalities nationwide, each involving allegations PFAS have contaminated water sources nationwide or caused specific injuries for firefighters.

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.

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