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AFF Foam Presents Health Risks to Firefighters

Firefighters have a significant risk of developing numerous types of cancer from one of the most effective tools used to swiftly extinguish fuel-based fires – Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). A fire suppressant, AFFF is used to fight flammable liquid fires that are not affected by water alone, such as petroleum. Though most commonly used by fire departments, AFFF is also used in firefighting training facilities and vehicles, ships, shipyards, and offshore facilities, and the military.

Firefighting foam is a concentrate that when mixed with water turns to a thick and creamy foam that works by coating the fuel behind the fire, lowering the fire’s temperature, and preventing oxygen from reaching the fuel and reigniting.

The foam concentrate contains water, and the chemicals ethylene and propylene glycol which extend the life of the foam. In order for the mixture to transform into a foam, AFFF also contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), man-made chemicals used in hundreds of products for their ability to resist heat, grease, oil, stains, and water. PFAS chemicals are most commonly associated with non-stick cookware and food packaging and have come under fire in recent years as dangerous and deadly carcinogens.

In 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final guidance on PFAS regulations under the agency’s Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), prohibiting companies from manufacturing, importing, utilizing, or processing long-chain PFAS without EPA review and approval. While the agency’s rule limits any future use of PFAS, there is a significant amount of older AFFF likely still in circulation or in use by fire departments. Firefighters are exposed to AFFF contamination through:

  • Contact with AFFF-contaminated personal protective equipment, such as turn-out gear, helmets, and breathing apparatus.
  • Handling AFFF-contaminated equipment.
  • Managing foam wastes.
  • Use of AFFF for fire suppression during an active fire or training exercise.
  • Working and occupying contaminated fire stations.

What Types of Cancers Are Attributed to AFFF Exposure?

The PFAS chemicals in AFFF have been shown to pose a significantly high risk of developing cancer from exposure. As a carcinogenic, PFAS damage cells’ nuclear material – deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) – and interfere with the metabolic processes. Studies have shown that PFAS’ effects on DNA lead to a weakened immune system, inflammation, cell proliferation, disrupts the communication between the body’s cells, and can lead to types of cancer, such as:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Neuroendocrine cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Uterine cancer

Due to the use of PFAS in numerous products, traces of the chemicals can be found in the blood of most of the population. Serious health conditions and cancers develop over time from repeated and considerable exposure to AFFF, not from isolated cases. Firefighters are the most at-risk of developing AFFF-related cancers due to repeated exposure, with studies showing firefighters exposed to AFFF were found to have extreme levels of PFAS, up to three times higher than the general population.

According to an Occupational Medicine journal study, the rate of fatality due to cancer among firefighters is 60 percent higher than the general population, with certain types of cancers demonstrating an even higher mortality rate.

Cancers are not the only serious health conditions firefighters can develop by working with AFFF foam. Regular exposure to PFAS can also lead to:

  • Asthma
  • Birth defects
  • Fertility problems and pregnancy-induced preeclampsia
  • Fetal and child development issues
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Liver damage
  • Thyroid disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Weakened immune system.

Can I Sue AFFF Manufacturers for My Foam-Related Cancer Diagnosis?

Over the past few years, a growing number of firefighters have filed lawsuits claiming the PFAS chemicals in AFFF foam caused them to develop cancers. As of early 2023, more than 3,700 cases are pending, the total number growing monthly.

All cases filed in federal courts in different circuits throughout the United States have been consolidated to multidistrict AFFF litigation (MDL) to increase discovery efficiency and pre-trial proceedings. Consolidating cases allow them to be heard by one federal judge, Richard M. Gergel, in the United States Federal Court for the District of South Carolina.

Though combined, the cases are not considered a class action lawsuit as the claimants have different types of cancers and medical conditions involving AFFF exposure. Firefighter injury claims in the MDL suit include cancers of the kidney, breast, bladder, testicles, and health conditions such as ulcerative colitis, kidney cysts, and tumors, among others.

The suits claim defendant chemical and manufacturing companies – including DuPont, 3M Company, and Chemours – knew the PFAS in firefighting foam accumulates in the body, increasing the risk of serious health conditions and illnesses, and failed to warn the public. Several states and municipalities have also filed lawsuits against manufacturers over PFAS contamination and the cost of AFFF foam cleanup.

How Can I Prove My Cancer Diagnosis is Due to AFFF Exposure?

If you serve as a professional, airport, or military firefighter, employment records can help establish proof of your exposure to AFFF. Volunteer firefighters can show proof of exposure through department call records. Work with an attorney to establish solid evidence as proof, including:

  • Exposure evidence: Fire departments and municipal emergency services keep stringent records of all calls which include, among other things, the type of call, who is on-scene and how the type of fire was treated. Departments also keep detailed records of any trainings that were held. All of these records can show whether or not you participated in a fire call or training where AFFF was used, along with the number of times you participated, establishing proof of exposure.
  • Medical records: Medical records provide solid evidence of your diagnosis and when you were first diagnoses. Your records should include notes from each of your doctors, specialists, and oncologists regarding the severity of your symptoms and the impact they have on all areas of your life, as well as cancer treatments such as surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.
  • Medical bills: Medical bills form the foundation of a personal injury claim, and you should maintain all records regarding your diagnosis, treatment, surgeries, hospitalization, tests, follow-up visits, physical therapy, personal or home medical equipment, in-home care, and any other necessary procedures or expenditures related to your diagnosis.

Philadelphia AFFF Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Represent Firefighters Diagnosed with Cancers and Health Condition Due to Toxic AFF Foam

If you are a firefighter who has been diagnosed with an AFFF-related cancer, the Philadelphia AFFF lawyers at McCann Dillion Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, can help establish evidence and file a claim against AFFF manufacturers. Call us at 215-515-7644 or compete our online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Abington, Pennsylvania, as well as Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.