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A former Virginia firefighter has filed a lawsuit that alleges years of exposure to toxic chemicals in firefighting foam resulted in the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Kevin Gentile in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on March 25, indicating that 3M Company, Du Pont, BASF Corp. and dozens of other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers failed to warn firefighters about the risk of that they may develop lymphoma or other cancers.
Gentile indicates that he was regularly exposed to products known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), during training and response exercises while he worked as a firefighter for the Stafford, Virginia fire department between 1995 and 2016.
The anti-fire foam is typically used to fight fuel-based fires, but Gentile indicates that he was unaware that the products contained harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can build up in the body and cause cancer.
“The descriptive labels and data sheets for the AFFF containing PFAS utilized at the Stafford Fire Department did not reasonably nor adequately describe the hazards of AFFF containing PFAS,” according to the complaint, which alleges that the chemicals “presented an unreasonable risk to human health and are inherently dangerous.”
Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the fire foam 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.
Gentile’s complaint joins hundreds of other firefighting foam lawsuits filed across the nation, each raising similar allegations that the toxic chemicals resulted in the diagnosis of serious injuries, such as testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.
In addition, the litigation also includes a number of complaints brought by local water companies or residents living around military bases, airports and other training sites, where the film-forming foam was regularly sprayed, resulting in widespread water contamination.
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.