New York Files Lawsuit Over Firefighting Foam Health Risks

3M Company, National Foam, Inc., Kidde and other manufacturers of firefighting foam face a lawsuit brought by the State of New York, which alleges the companies failed to warn about the potential health risks associated with the foam. 

New York filed the complaint (PDF) in the Supreme Court for the State of New York on June 19, indicating that firefighting foam has resulted in threats to public health, and caused environmental contamination.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Barbara D. Underwood, the state’s attorney general, announced in a press release the same day that the state hopes to force the companies to reimburse New York for the cost of cleaning up contamination caused by perfluorooctane sulfonic acid/perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid/perflurooctanoate (PFOA) in fire retardant foam used at military and civilian airports in Newburgh, New Windsor, Southampton, Plattsburgh, and Rome.

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Collectively known as perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), exposure has been linked to an increased risk of tumors, neonatal death, liver toxicity, immune system problems, disruption of the human endocrine system, as well as a potential risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers.

Defendants in the lawsuit include 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, National Foam, Inc. and Kidde-Fenwal, Inc. The state is seeking at least $38 million from those company to help pay for environmental clean-up efforts. To date, the state indicates it has spent nearly $39 million cleaning up contamination at the airports.

“The conduct of these manufacturers caused widespread contamination of our drinking water and our environment – and jeopardized the health of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” Attorney General Underwood said in the press release. “My office will hold these companies accountable for endangering the health of New Yorkers, including forcing them to fully repay the state for cleaning up the toxic mess they created.”

Research by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests human exposure to PFCs may also lead to a number of adverse effects, including reproductive, developmental and systemic adverse effects, low birth weight, accelerated puberty, and immune and thyroid disorders.

According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, PFC exposure may also suppress the immune system and limit the ability of the body to create antibodies in response to childhood vaccines.

“As state experts continue to investigate contamination caused by firefighting foams, New York is working to end the dangerous practices that threaten our natural resources,” Governor Cuomo said. “By taking necessary legal action against these companies, we are sending a clear message that we will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers.”

At least 15 people living next to an airport in Southampton, New Jersey filed a firefighting foam class-action suit last year, claiming their drinking water has been contaminated with PFCs by the military exercises over the last several decades due to the chemicals seeping into the ground.

The complaint alleges that 3M and others involved knew or should have known of the harm that could be caused by PFC exposure. Evidence of the harmful nature of the chemical exposure is cited within the claim, indicating internal reviews of personnel safety at the 3M plant recorded in the mid 1980’s. The lawsuit alleges 3M withheld safety information from purchasers and failed to warn of the exposure dangers or negative impacts that could be caused to the environment.

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