When we use emergency tools like fire-suppressant foam, we expect them to be effective, safe for use, and capable of protecting us from harm. Unfortunately, consumers and legal experts are learning that this isn’t always the case. A certain type of firefighting foam has recently become the target of lawsuits for its serious potential health risks.
AFFF Foam: What Is It and What’s the Problem?
Aqueous film forming foam, commonly known simply as AFFF, is a type of fire-suppressant foam commonly used by military firefighters in training sessions and to put out petroleum-based fires. Because it is so ideal for liquid fuel fires, this type of foam has long been used on Air Force bases where hydrocarbon fuels pose a significant fire risk.
The core problem with AFFF lies in perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)—specifically, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Originally produced by 3M, these two compounds have been used in manufacturing all kinds of chemical products. However, they are well-known for being extremely persistent in the environment and the human body and have been linked to a number of serious health concerns.
Serious AFFF Health Hazards and Environmental Risks
The severity of AFFF health risks cannot be understated. Individuals exposed to the foam directly may suffer from things like chemical burns, elevated levels of thyroid hormone, reduced fertility, low infant birth weights, and multiple types of cancer.
Humans and animals who are exposed indirectly to AFFF in the environment may also develop health issues over time. In 2016, government officials in Dayton, Ohio decided to preemptively shut down seven water production wells due to suspicions of contamination from nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Although they hadn’t yet detected any PFCs in the wells, Dayton authorities’ decision to shut them down shows that they were genuinely aware of the risks the chemicals could pose to citizens. In this case, the Dayton government made the right call. Sadly, many state and local governments choose to protect the interests and profits of big businesses instead of the health of local residents.
One particularly striking example is that of Dan Cruz, a mail carrier in Colorado Springs, CO who delivered mail to the Peterson Air Force Base (and often drank water there) for 25 years. Over the years, he was diagnosed with cancer three times and in three separate forms: prostate, thyroid, and testicular. According to Cruz, not one of those types of cancer had ever been seen in his family medical history. Other mail carriers who worked the same route also developed cancer, forming a suspicious pattern.
Who Is at Risk?
Individuals at greatest risk of harm from AFFF are those who have had direct chemical exposure. In other words, they’ve ingested the chemicals of concern via breathing, eating, drinking, or skin contact with the foam. Naturally, plant workers who manufacture the foam, firefighters who use it, and Air Force personnel who are directly exposed to it are at the greatest risk of this level of exposure.
Because PFCs do not degrade as quickly as other chemicals in the environment, there is also the possibility of indirect chemical exposure through contact with heavily PFC-contaminated water. Those whose drinking water was affected by AFFF runoff, for example, may have been harmed even though they never had direct contact with the substance.
The Responsibility of Manufacturers to Prevent Harm
When a company designs, develops, and manufactures a product, they have a legal responsibility to ensure that the product is safe for use and that any known risks are avoidable and have been made clear to the consumer. If a product is defective, it malfunctions, or it otherwise causes unexpected harm, this raises the question of whether the manufacturer tested the product appropriately or knowingly released it to the public with a defect.
In the case of AFFF foam products, it seems as though manufacturers knowingly ignored evidence of the harmful effects of PFCs to the detriment of firefighters, military personnel, private citizens, and the environment at large. Some contamination cases allege poor clean-up efforts by military and local authorities, but attempts to sue government agencies have not been very successful. In the end, the company selling the unsafe product is the one at fault.
Unsurprisingly, chemical manufacturing companies like 3M continue to argue that products containing PFOA and/or PFOS are completely safe and have not been shown by research to cause any health concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, considers the compounds to be “emerging contaminants” that may pose a real threat.
Even as companies continue to argue that science does not support claims of harm, government data and the Air Force’s decision to stop using AFFF foam are lending credence to what injured victims have been saying all along. As long as states keep ignoring this evidence and choosing profits over people, Americans will continue to get sick and manufacturers will continue to sell harmful products.
Victims Are Fighting Back
As the victim of an unsafe product, it can be easy to feel that there’s nothing you can do or that you have no chance against a major manufacturing company with high-priced lawyers. Through the right types of legal actions, however, you and other victims can hold even massive corporations accountable for the harm they’ve caused. Fighting back is not just possible; it’s your legal right.
The following cases are just a few examples of AFFF injury victims who are actively fighting manufacturers.
Residents of Bucks and Montgomery, Penn.
In 2017, more than 400 former and current residents of Montgomery and Bucks, Penn. filed a mass tort personal injury lawsuit against several fire-suppressant foam manufacturers (3M, Buckeye Fire Protection Company, National Foam, Chemguard and Tyco Fire Products). The residents involved in the case stated that they suffered injuries and/or illnesses after local drinking water was contaminated with PFOA and PFOS from AFFF used at nearby military bases.
Air Force Veteran Joseph Welty
Earlier this year, former U.S. Air Force member and Vietnam vet Joseph Welty began fighting back against AFFF manufacturers whose products contaminated his neighborhood’s water supply. After 55 years of marriage, Joseph says he lost his wife to lymphoma caused by PFCs in their drinking water.
Former Warminster Military Base Resident John Eynon
Florida resident John Eynon spent his teenage years living with his military family on the former Warminster military base. During that time, fire-suppressant foams containing PFOA and PFOS were being actively used on military bases, eventually contaminating the area’s groundwater. As a result, John says, he developed testicular cancer not once, but twice. John and his team of defective product lawyers are fighting 3M, Angus Fire, Ansul, Buckeye Fire Protection Co., Chemguard, and National Foam.
Have You Been Affected by AFFF Exposure? We Can Help
A foam that’s meant to extinguish dangerous fuel fires should protect people, not put consumers and private citizens at risk of toxic chemical exposure. When any product you trusted to be safe causes you harm, you have the right to hold the manufacturer accountable and receive compensation for your injuries.
With the help of an expert product liability lawyer from Saunders & Walker, P.A., you can seek the damages you deserve and speak out against business practices that put financial gain ahead of human decency. If you’ve been harmed by toxic AFFF exposure and need help to fight back, call (727) 579-4500 or contact Joe Saunders online for your free case evaluation.