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A product liability lawsuit filed by a Texas firefighter indicates he developed prostate cancer after training and working with toxic aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), which are regularly used to combat fuel-based fires.
Danny Miller filed the complaint (PDF) last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, presenting claims against 3M Company, BASF, and numerous other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers as defendants.
AFFF is an anti-fire foam which has been widely used by fire departments nationwide over the past several decades, to help fight fuel-based fires. However, versions of the foam contain chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which can build up in the body and are now known to cause cancer.
Miller’s lawsuit alleges PFAS used in firefighting foams are toxic and were present in the foams he used as a civilian firefighter in Dallas, Texas, from 1981 through 2019. He has since been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he blames on his exposure to PFAS chemicals through the use of AFFFs.
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.
In addition to claims for prostate cancer from the firefighting foam, lawsuits have also been brought on behalf of firefighters diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.
“PFAS binds to proteins in the blood of humans exposed to the material and remains and persists over long periods of time. Due to their unique chemical structure, PFAS accumulates in the blood and body of exposed individuals,” Miller’s lawsuit states. “PFAS are highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Defendants knew, or should have known, that PFAS remain in the human body while presenting significant health risks to humans.”
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.