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Toxic chemicals used in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) allegedly caused a volunteer firefighter to develop prostate cancer, according to allegations raised in a product liability lawsuit filed last week against more than a dozen different companies.
The complaint (PDF) was brought by Sam Gordon in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on April 19, indicating his prostate cancer diagnosis was the result of exposure to the toxic foam that was regularly used during training and response exercises.
Gordon was a firefighter with the Point Blank Volunteer Fire Department in Texas for several years, from 2002 to 2004, and also worked for the Huntsville Volunteer Fire Department from 2016 to present. During those times he was exposed to AFFFs, which allegedly resulted in his development of prostate cancer diagnosed in January 2018.
AFFF is an anti-fire foam which has been widely used by fire departments nationwide over the past several decades, to help fight fuel-based fires. However, versions of the foam contain chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which can build up in the body and are now known to cause cancer.
Gordon is one of a growing number of firefighters now filing lawsuits against manufacturers of the chemicals and safety equipment distributed nationwide, alleging that the companies knew or should have known about the risks, yet withheld information from firefighters and fire departments.
“PFOA and PFOS are persistent in the human body. A short-term exposure can result in a body burden that persists for years and can increase with additional exposures,” the lawsuit states. “Since they were first produced, information has emerged showing negative health effects caused by exposure to PFOA and PFOS.”
Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the fire foam may 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.
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.
In addition to claims for prostate cancer from the firefighting foam, lawsuits have also been brought on behalf of firefighters diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.
The litigation also includes a number of complaints brought by local water companies or residents living around military bases, airports and other training sites, where the film-forming foam was regularly sprayed, resulting in widespread water contamination.
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.