AFFF is one of the essential products in firefighting, used to fight flammable liquids in both aviation and ground-based scenarios. However, there have been reports that AFFF foam can cause health problems for those exposed. This has led to a wave of lawsuits against manufacturers and suppliers of firefighting foam nationwide.
So, what exactly is going on? What are these lawsuits all about? And what should you do if you find yourself affected by this issue? In this article, we’ll look at the reason behind the increasing number of firefighter foam lawsuits.
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) is a class of firefighting foam used to put out flammable liquids, including jet fuel. It forms a barrier between the liquid and air, preventing combustion. In other words, if you have enough firefighting foam in your tank, you can keep any hydrocarbon fuel from burning up completely. This means there are less chances of an explosion or fire.
Firefighter foam was first developed in the 1960s and has been used ever since as an effective way to fight fires involving volatile liquids. But because they contain fluorocarbons (FCs), firefighter foam products are also known for causing environmental damage when released into nature.
Common fluorocarbons found in AFFF are per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals. According to TorHoerman Law, these are forever chemicals that do not break down. Thus, they remain in the human body and the environment forever. It also means they can accumulate over time, leading to severe health issues.
The sad part is that despite knowing the harmful effects of firefighting foam, there are not many options available. However, many alternatives have been tried and tested. But the new fluorine-free foams take twice as much time and quantity to douse liquid fuel fire compared to AFFF.
The Unfolding Crisis
The widespread use of firefighter foam in firefighting operations has led to substantial environmental and health concerns. The foam contains perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA. In fact, PFOA has been linked to kidney cancer and other health issues in people exposed to it through their work.
It is among the most notorious PFAS, which has contaminated drinking water consumed by at least 200 million Americans. Companies like DuPont and 3M have been discharging PFAS and PFOA for 50 years.
As the PFAS levels increased over all these years, people started to see their widespread health concerns. PFAS has been identified as carcinogenic, which has been seen in the number of people affected due to its exposure. As many as 6,000 people have filed firefighting foam lawsuits against manufacturers.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to firefighting foam, you can file an AFFF foam lawsuit. With the lawsuit, you can fight for justice and seek compensation.
Environmental and Health Concerns
The EPA classifies firefighting foam as a “priority pollutant,” which means it is toxic to humans and the environment. The chemical has been shown to cause skin irritation, eye damage, and animal reproductive problems. It also can be fatal if ingested by humans or animals.
As you might expect from a substance linked to cancer and other health concerns, AFFF is also toxic to fish and aquatic life. Research is ongoing on the effects of PFOA and PFAS on marine life after both short-term and long-term exposure to the chemicals. The sensitivity of these toxic chemicals was studied among different fishes. With a respective sensitivity of an LC50–96 h of 4.7 mg/L and 7.8 mg/L, Pimephales promelas and Lepomis macrochirus were found to be the most sensitive.
Further complicating matters is that most firefighter foam manufacturers have not disclosed what exactly goes into their formulas. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for regulators who want to prevent harm through regulation or litigation to know where those dangers lie.
The Legal Landscape
Lawsuits related to AFFF generally fall into several legal categories, including product liability, negligence, and environmental claims. Plaintiffs argue that manufacturers failed to adequately warn about the potential dangers of PFAS. They also failed to conduct proper testing and continued to produce and market firefighting foam despite knowledge of its risks.
Additionally, some lawsuits target entities that used firefighter foam, alleging negligence in its application and disposal. As of October 2023, almost 5,938 AFFF lawsuits are pending across the US. These lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL).
Several municipalities have also filed lawsuits against firefighting foam manufacturers. The settlement amount for such lawsuits is nearing $10.3 billion. However, individual victims’ settlement amounts have not yet been decided, as they can vary widely. The settlements for individual claims can vary based on medical expenses, lost wages, the severity of the condition, etc.
The firefighting foam industry is working with the EPA to address the issues surrounding AFFF. They are also working on new formulations and a better understanding of the science behind firefighter foam.
The industry has been trying for years to find ways to make firefighting foam more environmentally friendly. But until now, no method has met all of their needs.
As for the response to firefighting foam lawsuits, manufacturers are preparing their defense. Some companies may assert that they complied with industry and regulatory standards in manufacturing and using AFFF. They might argue that negative outcomes were not due to their negligence but a lack of understanding of the potential risks associated with PFAS.
Manufacturers may engage in communication efforts to manage public perception and address concerns. This might involve explaining their commitment to safety, the steps taken to address the problems, and initiatives focused on finding alternatives.
In response to the growing concerns surrounding PFAS, regulatory bodies have taken significant steps to address AFFF use and contamination:
- EPA regulatory actions: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been at the forefront of regulatory changes. The agency has set health advisory levels for PFAS in drinking water.
- State-level initiatives: Several states have implemented or proposed regulations to restrict the use of firefighter foam-containing PFAS. This includes bans on non-essential uses, such as training exercises, and the introduction of disposal guidelines for PFAS-containing firefighting foam.
- International standards: Beyond the United States, other countries and international organizations have also taken steps to regulate PFAS. This includes the Stockholm Convention’s consideration of a global ban on PFAS, signaling a broader shift toward recognizing the risks.
The AFFF lawsuit wave is a serious problem for the firefighting industry and its regulators. We’ve seen how environmental and health concerns have led to new regulations and multimillion-dollar settlements with cities and counties nationwide. This trend will likely continue in the coming years as more lawsuits are filed against foam manufacturers due to their PFOS use.