According to allegations raised in a product liability lawsuit by a firefighter, exposure to film-forming foams (AFFFs) commonly used to fight fires caused the development of testicular cancer, indicating that a number of chemical manufacturers withheld important safety warnings about the potential side effects.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Mark Austin earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, indicating that he was diagnosed with cancer following exposure to the firefighting foam, which contains perfluorinated compounds (PFAS).
A long list of companies are named as defendants, including 3M Company, Buckey Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., Chemours Company FC, Chubb Fire, Ltd., Corteva, Inc. Du Pont De Nemours Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kidde, National Foam, Inc., Tyco Fire Products, United Technologies Corporation and UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Inc.
3M Company, Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard, Inc. already face dozens of other fire-fighting foam lawsuits filed by both individuals and municipalities nationwide, each involving allegations PFAS which have contaminated water sources nationwide or caused specific injuries.
“AFFF and its components are associated with a wide variety of adverse health effects in humans,” the lawsuit states. “Exposure to Defendants’ AFFF has been linked to serious medical conditions including, but not limited to, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, testicular tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, bladder cancer, thyroid disease and infertility.”
In addition to firefighting foams, PFASs are chemical substances used to manufacture a number of products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. The firefighting foam has been regularly used at military bases nationwide over the past decade during routine fire extinguishing exercises, and is increasingly used by civilian firefighters.
The chemicals are projected to 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. Previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could likely be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.
PFAS 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 June 2019, a federal investigation found that PFAS chemicals are commonly found in numerous food products, including meats, seafood, chocolate, cake and other products. However, the FDA released a statement indicating that the levels found do not raise health concerns, based on the best available science.
According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, exposure may also suppress the immune system and limit the ability of the body to create antibodies in response to childhood vaccines.
In December 2018, all firefighting foam exposure lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.