Firefighter Turnout Gear Lawsuit Filed Over Cancer Caused PFAS Exposure

Lawsuit filed against the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals alleges that firefighter turnout gear caused a Massachusetts man to develop prostate cancer after years of exposure to the protective equipment

A Massachusetts firefighter has filed a turnout gear lawsuit against 3M Company and dozens of other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers, alleging that firefighters were not adequately warned about the cancer risks associated with high levels of so-called “forever chemicals” used in the safety equipment.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Robert O’Connor late last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, indicating that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in turnout gear used during his 40 years of service as a firefighter in Worcester, Massachusetts caused him to develop prostate cancer.

O’Connor claims that that 3M Company and the other defendants knew about the cancer risks associated with firefighter turnout gear, but failed to adequately warn that the toxic chemicals may accumulate in their blood, causing various types of cancer and diseases.

Firefighter Turnout Gear PFAS Risks

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. However, there is now growing evidence that exposure to the chemicals may cause various cancers, liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and other injuries.

While most of the attention on the chemicals in recent years has focused on the use in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in toxic exposures for firefighters and widespread water contamination in communities nationwide, PFAS are also found in a number of consumer products, including food containers, bottles and wrappers.

In addition, concerns have emerged about the cancer risk from PFAS in firefighting turnout gear; which is the protective, layered clothing worn by firefighters to protect them from heat, flames and chemical exposure.

In August 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association issued a warning to firefighters, calling for them to reduce their PFAS exposure by limiting their use of turnout gear. The groups warned that firefighters will not be able to fully avoid the PFAS cancer risk until the chemicals are removed entirely from protective gear and AFFF foam, but they called for the development and widespread availability of such gear. In the meantime, the group indicated that firefighters should limit the use of turnout gear to only emergency situations where it is required, and then suggested fire fighters remove it as soon as possible.

Studies have linked exposure to the chemicals to an increased risk of various types of cancer, leading to several thousand PFAS exposure injury lawsuits now being pursued against more than a dozen chemical and safety equipment manufacturing companies, both by firefighters directly exposed to the chemicals and individuals who drank contaminated water.

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Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.


According to the lawsuit, O’Connor, now retired, wore turnout gear for decades, and was regularly exposed to PFAS-laden firefighting foam during training and response exercises. He was unaware of the firefighter turnout gear health risks, which the lawsuit indicates led to the buildup of PFAS chemicals in his blood.

The firefighter turnout gear lawsuit states that eventually this exposure led to the development of prostate cancer. The lawsuit notes that the PFAS exposure and high levels of blood contamination mean O’Connor continues to face a significant risk of further injuries and adverse health problems in the future.

“Defendants manufactured, designed, marketed, sold, supplied, or distributed PFAS and PFAS chemical feedstock, as well PFAS-containing turnouts and Class B foam, to firefighting training facilities and fire departments nationally, including in Massachusetts. Defendants did so, moreover, without ever informing firefighters or the public that turnouts and Class B foams contained PFAS, and without warning firefighters or the public of the substantial and serious health injuries that can result from exposure to PFAS or PFAS-containing materials,” the lawsuit states. “Even worse, Defendants concealed the hazardous toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation of PFAS, and repeatedly misrepresented the safety of PFAS or PFAS-containing materials.”

PFAS Exposure Lawsuits

Turnout gear lawsuits filed by O’Connor and other firefighters are just a small aspect of the PFAS exposure litigation facing chemical manufacturers.

Given common questions of fact and law presented in the litigation, all PFAS water contamination and firefighter foam injury lawsuits are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery, pretrial proceedings and a series of early bellwether trials.

Last year, dozens of municipalities reached a $12.5 billion PFAS water contamination settlement with 3M Company, which resolved claims brought by local water providers who have been left with the costs associated with trying to remove the chemicals from local drinking water supplies. However, these funds did not resolve any individual injury claims.

Manufacturers continue to face thousands of individual firefighter cancer lawsuits, brought by individuals who developed testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other forms of cancer following exposure to the toxic chemicals in firefighting foam.


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