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A slew of chemical and safety equipment manufacturers face a product liability lawsuit that blames the side effects of toxic firefighting foam for a case of cancer that cost a former first responder his kidney.
James Edward Collie filed a complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on December 8, indicating he was diagnosed with kidney cancer after years of exposure to aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) which contain toxic chemicals known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The former Florida firefighter indicates that he regularly used, and was directly exposed to, firefighting foam to help fight fires. However, he was never informed the foam was toxic and was not told he would need any protective gear when handling the foam.
As a result of the kidney cancer diagnosis caused by the foam, Collie indicates he ended up needing to have his kidney surgically removed.
The film-forming foams were widely used in prior decades at military bases and by various firefighting organizations, during training exercises and in response to certain fuel-based fires.
Collie claims the manufacturers knew about the risk of bioaccumulation, toxicity and other harmful side effects, yet intentionally failing to disclosure the information to firefighters and regulators.
Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in AFFF may 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.
The toxic chemicals 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.
“AFFF and its components are associated with a wide variety of adverse health effects in humans,” Collie’s lawsuit states. “Exposure to Defendants’ AFFF has been linked to serious medical conditions including, but not limited to, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, liver cancer, testicular tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, bladder cancer, thyroid disease and infertility.”
According to Collie’s lawsuit, as early as the 1960s the defendants knew or should have known science indicated PFAS exposure could result in adverse health effects, due to laboratory testing on animals. The evidence has only increased since then.
“By at least 2010, additional research and testing performed by Defendants manufacturing and/or using PFAS, including at least 3M and DuPont, revealed multiple potential adverse health impacts among workers exposed to such PFAS,” the lawsuit states.
Collie’s complaint joins a number of firefighting foam lawsuits filed across the nation, all raising similar allegations of the manufacturers failing to warn of the dangerous PFAS, which have resulted in those exposed to develop testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries.
Due to the growing number of lawsuits over firefighting foam injuries brought throughout the federal court system, centralized pretrial proceedings have been established in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where the parties are engaging in coordinated discovery and preparing for a series of early “bellwether” trials designed to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated in claims brought by firefighters nationwide.