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A new report highlights growing concerns among firefighters about the risks associated with toxic cancer-causing chemicals in firefighting foam, which are also present in other protective gear commonly used by departments nationwide.
According to a story published this week by Bloomberg News, several firefighters filed a lawsuit earlier this year in California state court, indicating that their “bunker gear” contained chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to increase the risk of cancer among humans and persist in the environment or human body for years.
This means their protective clothing and gear, necessary to prevent injury while fighting fires, could be an additional vector of cancer-causing agents, adding to existing concerns over PFAS in firefighting foams.
Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for decades at military bases and by some civilian fire fighting organizations throughout the United States to fight petroleum-based fires which cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone. Versions of the fire foam have been made with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, which are known to increase the risk of cancer among humans and persist in the environment or human body for years.
In the United States, a number of communities around military bases, airports and other firefighter training locations have been with high levels of PFAS in local water sources, which are often difficult to remove and may cause widespread health concerns.
While most recent firefighter PFAS lawsuits have focused on film-forming foam, this complaint, representing two dozen firefighters focuses on the presence of PFAS in their protective gear.
All of the firefighters named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit have cancer, with nine of them having prostate cancer. In addition, all of the firefighters had high levels of PFAS in their blood.
In October, the lawsuit was removed from state to federal court. The lawsuit names a number of protective gear manufacturers as defendants, including 3M Company and Johnson Controls Inc.
The Bloomberg report suggests courts may see an influx of these protective gear PFAS lawsuits in coming months. These would be in addition to hundreds of firefighting foam lawsuits pending nationwide, including claims presented by local governments and water districts, as well as claims brought by former firefighters diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries after direct exposure to the chemicals.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the PFAS litigation, all cases filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, where small groups of water contamination cases and cancer claims are being prepared for early trial dates.