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A former U.S. Navy firefighter developed testicular cancer following years of exposure to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which was used to fight petroleum fires on military bases nationwide, according to allegations raised in a recently filed lawsuit.
Michael Sloane, of Texas, brought the complaint (PDF) against a number of chemical and safety equipment manufacturers on September 8, indicating that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present in firefighting foams were the cause of his cancer diagnosis.
Commonly described as “forever chemicals”, PFAS compounds used in firefighter foam include perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which are now known to bioaccumulate in the body and environment, since they do not naturally breakdown, increasing the risk of a number of serious health conditions for former firefighters.
Sloane indicates he was exposed to the chemicals when serving as a firefighter in the navy from 1980 through 1983, during which time he was stationed at the U.S. Navy Firefighting school, the U.S. Naval Base Charleston and on board the USS Hunley, the USS Dale and the USS Thorn. All of those locations used or stored PFAS-based firefighter foams, according to the lawsuit. However, Sloane was never warned of the potential health risks and indicates he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May 2006.
“The descriptive labels and material safety data sheets for Defendants’ AFFF containing PFOA or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals utilized by the United States Navy firefighters did not reasonably or adequately describe the AFFF’s risks to human health,” the lawsuit states. “The Defendants knew or should have known of the hazards of AFFF containing PFOA and/or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals when the products were manufactured.”
Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the firefighter foam may 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.
The toxic chemicals 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.
Sloane’s case joins hundreds of similar firefighter cancer lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals directly exposed to the chemicals while spraying the products during training or response exercises, indicating that the toxic chemicals caused various injuries, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the cases, the federal litigation is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where it is expected that a small group of “bellwether” cases will be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries respond to certain evidence and testimony which will be repeated throughout the claims. However, if settlements or another resolution for the lawsuits is not reached following coordinated pretrial proceedings, hundreds of individual claims brought by firefighters and others may later be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate jury trials.