PFAS Chemicals in Firefighter Turnout Gear, AFFF Foam Caused Testicular Cancer and Thyroid Disease, Lawsuit Claims

Lawsuit alleges firefighter developed thyroid disease and testicular cancer from AFFF foam used during his career, which contained toxic PFAS chemicals.

A former New York firefighter indicates that he developed thyroid disease and testicular cancer after exposure to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in both protective turnout gear and aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which was used throughout his career during training and response exercises to fight certain types of fires.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Robert Zimmerman on June 13 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, pursuing damages from a number of different chemical and manufacturing companies as defendants, some of which include 3M Company, Chemguard, Inc., Du Pont de Nemours, Inc., and Honeywell Safety Products.

The lawsuit indicates both the firefighter foam and turnout gear contained high levels of PFAS, which include a group of more than 9,000 chemicals widely used for decades to resist grease, oil and water. However, most of the attention has been focused on the use of PFAS in AFFF, which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in toxic exposures for firefighters and widespread water contamination.

There is now growing evidence that exposure to the chemicals may cause various cancers, liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, hormone suppression and other injuries.

PFAS Exposure from Firefighter Turnout Gear

In addition to concerns about direct exposure to the PFAS chemicals in AFFF, there is also growing evidence that firefighter face cancer risk from PFAS in firefighting turnout gear, also referred to as bunker gear; which is the protective, layered clothing worn by firefighters to protect them from heat, flames and chemical exposure.

In August 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association issued a warning to firefighters, calling for them to reduce their PFAS exposure by limiting their use of turnout gear. The groups warned that firefighters will not be able to fully avoid the PFAS cancer risk until the chemicals are removed entirely from protective gear and AFFF foam, but they called for the development and widespread availability of such gear. In the meantime, the group indicated that firefighters should limit the use of turnout gear to only emergency situations where it is required, and then suggested fire fighters remove it as soon as possible.

However, most of the PFAS health concerns have stemmed from water contamination problems caused by the large volumes of the chemicals in AFFF, which have been used by the military and firefighters for decades to fight fuel-based fires. During training and response exercises, these PFAS chemicals have been dumped into the environment and local water supplies, particularly around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, causing many communities to have dangerous levels of the chemicals in their drinking water.

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 evidence uncovered during litigation has further heightened concerns about the long-term risks associated with use of the chemicals.

Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Were you or a loved one exposed to toxic AFFF Chemicals?

Lawyers are reviewing aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) lawsuits for firefighters, military personnel and individuals who developed cancer or other health issues from exposure to toxic firefighting foam chemicals.


According to this recent lawsuit, Zimmerman, 64, worked as an active-duty firefighter for the Volunteer Fire Association in Tappan, New York, from 1978 to 1989. Zimmerman indicates he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1993, and thyroid disease in 2010, which the lawsuit blames on PFAS exposure from his turnout gear and the use of AFFF.

The complaint indicates Zimmerman had to undergo surgery to remove is left testicle and has undergone radiation therapy for both that and his thyroid disease, which has proven resistant to treatment through medication.

The treatments destroyed Zimmerman’s thyroid gland, requiring he take medication to make up for its loss for the rest of his life.

“For decades, Defendants were aware of the toxic nature of PFAS and the harmful impact these substances have on human health. Yet, Defendants manufactured, designed, marketed, sold, supplied, and/or distributed PFAS and PFAS chemical feedstock, as well PFAS- containing bunker gear, to firefighting training facilities and fire departments nationally, including to the Volunteer Fire Association of Tappan,” Zimmerman’s lawsuit states. “Defendants did so, moreover, without ever informing firefighters or the public that their bunker gear contained PFAS, and without warning firefighters or the public of the substantial and serious health injuries that can result from exposure to PFAS or PFAS-containing materials in bunker gear and Class B firefighting foams. Even worse, Defendants concealed the hazardous toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation of PFAS, and repeatedly misrepresented the safety of PFAS and/or PFAS-containing materials.”

The lawsuit indicates that, because of PFAS manufacturers’ deceptions, Zimmerman did not become aware of the link between his illnesses and the chemicals until March 2023.

June 2024 PFAS Exposure Lawsuit Update

Zimmerman’s complaint joins thousands of other PFAS exposure lawsuits currently being pursued in the federal court system, which are centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery and a series of early bellwether trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

Last year, Judge Gergel issued a case management order directing the parties to prepare a group of 28 PFAS injury claims to serve as a bellwether pool, which will be prepared for a series of early trial dates. The initial bellwether trials will focus on plaintiffs who say they were exposed to PFAS through drinking contaminated water, as opposed to direct exposure claims brought by firefighters.

The personal injury bellwether claims will include eight kidney cancer claims, eight testicular cancer claims, eight thyroid disease claims and four ulcerative colitis claims involving individuals exposed to contaminated water near Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.

While the outcome of these early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other claims, it is expected that the amount of any PFAS exposure lawsuit payout awarded by juries may influence future firefighter cancer settlement negotiations to resolve the litigation.


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