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Michigan Attorney General Files Lawsuits Over Civilian and Military Firefighting Foam Contamination

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Two lawsuits filed by Michigan’s Attorney General, in both state and federal courts, call for chemical manufacturers to pay the state for damages and contamination caused by aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used by military and civilian firefighters.

The complaints filed last week by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, joining a similar lawsuit brought by the state in January. The state lawsuit (PDF) was filed in Michigan Circuit Court in Ingham County, and the federal complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on August 20.

According to a press release from Nessel’s office, the state lawsuit targets manufacturers of commercial-grade AFFFs who sold their products to customers in Michigan, while the federal lawsuit goes after manufacturers who sold their products to the military, which then used those products on bases throughout the state.

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 that cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone, containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are known to increase the risk of cancer among humans.

The lawsuits claim the manufacturers “knowingly and recklessly” sold, distributed and handled AFFFs which contain PFAS in a way they knew would harm Michigan residents and contaminate the state’s resources.

“These actions continue my office’s efforts to protect our residents and our state’s natural resources and property from the dangers posed by PFAS in the environment,” Nessel said in the press release. “As with the lawsuit already filed for PFAS contamination from non-AFFF sources, these lawsuits seek recovery of damages, remediation costs and other relief needed due to PFAS contamination from AFFF in the State of Michigan. Michigan taxpayers should not have to pay for this massive undertaking – those who profited from the manufacture and sale of these harmful chemicals should.”

PFAS Health Concerns

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 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.

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.

The manufacturers face a growing number of product liability lawsuits from former fighter fighters who say they developed various forms of cancer, particularly testicular cancer, following years of exposure to the chemicals without adequate safety equipment or health warnings.

In December 2018, all military and civilian firefighting foam lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.

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