Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Blamed on Firefighter’s Exposure to PFAS Foam

The prostate cancer diagnosis came after years of exposure to toxic firefighting foam products, the lawsuit claims.

A former Arizona firefighter indicates in a recently filed lawsuit that his prostate cancer diagnosis is blamed on years of exposure to PFAS in firefighter foam, which was used during training and response exercises throughout his career.

The complaint (PDF) was brought by Virgil Ashford in South Carolina federal court on April 28, pursuing claims against dozens of chemical and safety equipment manufacturers, such as 3M Company, DuPont, and Chemours Company, alleging that they failed to provide adequate instructions and warnings about the risks associated with PFAS foam exposure.

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been widely used for decades to combat fuel based fires, and has been a major part of firefighter training. The foam contains high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are commonly described as “forever chemicals” since they do not naturally breakdown and can bioaccumulate in the body and environment, causing a number of serious health conditions among former firefighters and instructors.

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.

Ashford’s lawsuit claims he regularly used, and was thus exposed to, PFAS foam while in training or actively extinguishing fires during his career as a firefighter. The lawsuit indicates those exposures led to his prostate cancer diagnosis.

“The Plaintiff directly used, was exposed, and/or was given AFFF to help fight fires on a regular basis. The Plaintiff was never informed that this product was inherently dangerous. Nor was the Plaintiff warned about the known health risks associated with this product,” Ashford’s lawsuit states. “The Plaintiff never received or was told to use any protective gear to guard against the known dangerous propensities of this product.”

Ashford’s case joins hundreds of similar firefighter PFAS foam lawsuits filed over the manufacturers’ failure to warn about the long-term risks associated with exposure to the chemicals during training and response exercises, including claims over prostate cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers. Lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of individuals who lived near military bases, airports and other training facilities, where the chemicals have contaminated local drinking water.

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 firefighter cancer settlements or another resolution for the lawsuits is not reached following coordinated pretrial proceedings, hundreds of individual claims may later be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate jury trials.

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