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Following more than 15 years as a firefighter, a recently filed product liability lawsuits that exposure to PFAS chemicals in fire fighting foam caused an Oklahoma man to develop cancer.
The number of product liability lawsuits filed against manufacturers of firefighter foam continues to grow, with more and more men saying they developed cancer due to exposure to certain chemicals used in the flame retardant.
The complaint (PDF) was filed on February 26 by Edward Stewart and his wife, Amy, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, indicating that he was regularly exposed to synthetic and toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are long-lasting chemicals that can accumulate in the blood or body, resulting in cancer and other injuries.
Stewart indicates that PFAS foam products used to fight fires for the Elmore City Fire Department in Elmore, Oklahoma ultimately resulted in his cancer diagnosis in March 2018.
The lawsuit presents claims against various companies responsible for manufacturing and selling aqueous film forming foams (AFFF), including 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, L.P., Buckeye Fire Equipment Co., Chemguard, National Foam, Inc., Du Pont de Nemours & Co., The Chemours Company, Arkema, Inc., Dowdupont, Inc. Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Inc., United Technologies Corporation, Chubb Fire, Ltd., and Angus Fire, indicating that the co-defendants failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with exposure to the PFAS firefighting foam.
“The descriptive labels and data sheets for the AFFF containing PFAS utilized at the Elmore City Fire Department in Elmore City, Oklahoma did not reasonably nor adequately describe the hazards of AFFF containing PFAS,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants knew or should have known of these hazards when the product was distributed.”
Firefighting AFFF Exposure Litigation
The manufacturers already face dozens of similar PFAS fire-fighting foam lawsuits filed by both individuals and municipalities nationwide, each involving allegations that chemicals contaminated water sources nationwide or caused specific injuries. A growing number of complaints are now also being pursued by firefighters diagnosed with testicular cancer and other injuries.
In addition to firefighting foams, PFASs are chemical substances used to manufacture a number of other products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. The PFAS foam has been regularly used over the past decade to fight fires at military bases, but have also been 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.
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 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.
In December 2018, all firefighting foam exposure lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide were centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.