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Firefighter Foam Exposure Led To Thyroid Disease, Navy Veteran’s Lawsuit Alleges

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A U.S. Navy veteran indicates in a recently filed lawsuit that exposure to toxic chemicals in firefighter foam during his time at military bases resulted in the development of thyroid disease.

Billy Rogers, of California, filed a product liability complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on June 15, indicating his thyroid disease diagnosis resulted from the presence of pre- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on military installations in Alameda and Treasure Island.

These chemicals have been contained in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) used by the U.S. military for decades during training exercises and in response to petroleum-based fires.

3M Company, Kidde-Fenwall, Inc., DuPont and a number of other chemical and safety equipment manufacturers have been named as defendants in the lawsuit, which indicates that Rogers’ years of service left him with elevated levels of PFAS in his body, resulting in thyroid disease.

According to the complaint, Rogers joined the U.S. Navy in 1973, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Alameda from 1974 through 1976, and again from 1978 to 1979, and to Treasure Island in 1981. While on those bases he consumed drinking water that was contaminated with the chemicals from use of the firefighter foam on the military base, and he also attended fire-fighting training exercises where he was directly exposed to the chemicals.

PFAS water contamination at Alameda was at 336,000 parts per trillion (ppt), according to the complaint, and 10,750 ppt at Treasure Island. The EPA recommends a limit of 70 ppt, and exposure to PFAS chemicals has been linked to a number of serious health risks.

Rogers was diagnosed with Graves disease, a thyroid disease, in 2013. and he has had to undergo ablation and mass resection treatments as a result.

Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the firefighter foam may take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have highlighted 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 the 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.

The lawsuit claims the manufacturers knew about the risks and the potential for PFAS exposure to cause serious adverse health effects.

“It was understood by Defendants that the manifestations of disease could occur many years after original exposure to the chemicals,” Rogers’ lawsuit states. “Moreover, Defendants knew that the chemicals design permitted their toxicity to remain a bioaccumulation threat with severe physical adverse effects as above for years, if not decades, in each place where the chemicals were used as intended, i.e.: a known significant potential latency period.”

Rogers’ complaint joins a growing number of firefighter foam lawsuits filed nationwide by former service members, civilian firefighters and residents living near military bases or chemical plants, all involving claims cancer and other ailments were caused by exposure to PFAS from AFFFs.

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 that 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.

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