Erik Schilling was never a firefighter, but indicates he developed cancer from chemicals in firefighting foam, which contaminated his drinking water following years of usage at a nearby airport.
In a lawsuit (PDF) filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the Texas man presents claims against 3M Company, BASF Corporation, and a host of other manufacturers involved in the production and sale of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which have been used for decades during training exercises and in response to fuel-based fires.
Certain versions of the firefighting foam have been made with chemicals known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can build up in the body and the environment, and have been linked to reports of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries among firefighters directly exposed to AFFF.
While Schilling did not directly work with the firefighting foam, he indicates he was exposed to PFAS chemicals from his birth in 1973 until at least 1995, while he lived in New Castle County, Delaware, near the Wilmington-New Castle Airport, where AFFF products were regularly used. As a result of the use of the firefighting foam at the airport, the lawsuit indicates that the local water supply has been contaminated for decades.
Fluorochemicals like PFAS are commonly referred to as “forever” chemicals, since they do not break down under typical environmental conditions and can persist for thousands of years.
In March 2019, Schilling was diagnosed with a form of prostate cancer known as prostatic adenocarcinoma, which he indicates was a direct result of exposure to the toxic chemicals in his drinking water.
“As manufacturers, designers, refiners, formulators, distributors, suppliers, sellers, and/or marketers of fluorochemical products, Defendants owed a duty to all persons whom Defendants’ products might foreseeably harm, including Plaintiff, not to manufacture, sell, and/or market any product which is unreasonably dangerous for its intended and foreseeable uses,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants’ defective design of the fluorochemical products was far more dangerous than an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended and reasonably foreseeable manner.”
The complaint joins a number of firefighter cancer lawsuits filed across the nation, as well as class action lawsuits filed by local water districts in areas around airports and military bases where large amounts of AFFF products were used routinely during training exercises.
Given common questions of fact and law brought in the claims filed throughout the federal court system, centralized pretrial proceedings have been established in the District of South Carolina, where the parties are engaging in coordinated discovery and preparing for a series of early “bellwether” trials designed to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.