Iowa Lawmakers Consider Firefighter Foam Ban Due to PFAS Cancer Risks

Some are concerned that the proposed Iowa firefighter foam ban may not be achievable by January 2026, due to the costs and lack of proven alternatives.

An Iowa Senate bill proposed earlier this month seeks to ban the use of firefighting foam products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in that state, due to the risks of water contamination and cancer linked to the toxic chemicals.

The bill, Senate File 2229, was introduced on February 6, and would prohibit fire departments, municipalities and county airports from purchasing or otherwise acquiring aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) containing so-called “forever chemicals” after January 1, 2026.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. However, they are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body, and there is growing evidence linking exposure to a myriad of adverse health effects, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and other side effects.

AFFF products containing PFAS chemicals have been widely used in recent decades to combat fuel-based fires. During training and response exercises, large volumes of the toxic chemicals have been dumped into the environment, resulting in widespread water contamination throughout the United States, particularly around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products now face thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers and individuals diagnosed with various types of cancer. The companies also face hundreds of firefighter cancer lawsuits over exposure to AFFF, and the litigation has further increased concerns about the long-term risks associated with use of the products.

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

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State officials say airports in Iowa, and around the country, are major sources of PFAS water contamination due to their use of AFFF products. At an Iowa Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month, state firefighter officials indicated that there are at least eight state firefighters undergoing treatment from cancer, believed to be caused by PFAS firefighting foam exposure.

However, airport officials warn that such a switch will be expensive, noting that just cleaning two firefighting vehicles of the chemicals could cost as much as $250,000. They warn that changing over by 2026 may be financially difficult, if not impossible.

In addition, critics of the bill question whether effective alternatives to AFFF foam will be available and cost-effective.

The subcommittee voted to move the proposed legislation forward about two weeks ago.

States Setting Firefighter Foam Use Limits

Iowa is one of the latest states to begin moving to eliminate AFFF use and reduce the amount of PFAS exposure to its citizens, as well as seeking to prevent further water and soil contamination.

Last month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a plan to collect and destroy that state’s supply of PFAS-laden firefighting foam as part of an AFFF Takeback Program.

In 2021, Maine put in place a ban on the use of all PFAS chemicals in products used in that state,  designed to go into effect by 2030. Other states have passed laws restricting its use in certain products, such as firefighting foam and food packaging.

A report released in December by the Environmental Working Group indicated that at least 44 million Americans have drinking water contaminated with PFAS. The environmental group warned that at least 854 water systems nationwide are combatting PFAS contamination.

Individual Injury PFAS Lawsuits

Given common questions of fact and law presented in thousands of lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers over the cancer risks, coordinated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, where the claims are currently centralized for discovery and a series of early bellwether trials.

Although the manufacturers have reached proposed settlement over damages sustained by local water suppliers, who have been left with the costs associated with cleaning up the toxic chemicals, there have been no settlements in PFAS injury lawsuits brought by individuals exposed to the chemicals through drinking water, or firefighters directly exposed through AFFF foam.

Last year, Judge Gergel directed the lawyers involved in the litigation to select a group of 28 representative personal injury claims for an AFFF injury bellwether pool, involving plaintiffs who say they were exposed to chemicals that contaminated drinking water.

However, the first cases are unlikely to go before a jury for several years. In addition, the outcome of these claims will not have any binding impact on the other individual lawsuits, although they will be closely watched and may influence how much manufacturers may pay to settle lawsuits brought by other plaintiffs.

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