Firefighters selflessly risk their lives every day to protect communities from blazes. However, a number of these brave men and women are now facing a new type of risk. A health problem resulting from their exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) contained in firefighting foam.

These compounds, dubbed “forever chemicals” because of their longevity in the environment and the human body, have been linked to a variety of illnesses. As a result, firemen throughout the United States are banding together to file a wave of lawsuits against the producers of this firefighting foam.

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam and PFAS Contamination

For decades, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) was the industry standard for extinguishing petroleum-based fires. However, AFFF contains PFAS chemicals, which have been found to contaminate air, water, and soil at fire stations, airports, and military bases. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently investigating the potential health risks of PFAS exposure and is developing recommendations to regulate these chemicals.

EPA notes that PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals globally due to their widespread use and environmental persistence. They are also present at low levels in a variety of food products.

Firefighters Face Increased Cancer Risks

Preventative Diagnostic Center reports that firefighters have a 9% higher risk of cancer diagnosis in comparison to the general population. They are also 14% more likely to die from cancer. This has sparked worries about a possible connection to exposure to PFAS.

Although further investigation is necessary to prove a causal relationship, an increasing amount of evidence points to a major health risk for firefighters. Firefighters are especially vulnerable to PFAS exposure since AFFF is often used in both training exercises and actual fire situations. A 2023 study published by NIH found that firefighters exposed to AFFF had an increased risk of testicular cancer. 

The Rise of Firefighter AFFF Lawsuits

In response to these health risks, firefighters are increasingly turning to the legal system for compensation. TorHoerman Law notes that there is currently a multidistrict litigation (MDL) ongoing in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. 

According to the Lawsuit Information Center’s June 2024 update, the AFFF MDL currently has 8,270 federal lawsuits pending against AFFF manufacturers. Another update mentions that the proposal for bellwether trial pool selection will be finalized by July 2, 2024.

The firefighter foam lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the health risks of PFAS. But they failed to warn firefighters of the potential dangers. Firefighters argue that the manufacturers had a responsibility to conduct proper safety testing and provide adequate warnings about the risks associated with AFFF.

The Advantages of Class Action Lawsuits

Many firefighter AFFF lawsuits are being filed as class actions. Class action lawsuits allow a large group of people with similar claims to join together in a single lawsuit. Compared to individual lawsuits, this can be more productive and economical. 

In AFFF lawsuits, a class action can provide a united front against the manufacturers and increase the bargaining power of firefighters seeking compensation. Additionally, class action lawsuits can streamline the legal process and ensure that all firefighters with valid claims have an opportunity to be heard. notes that in 2021, Johnson Controls consented to pay $17.5 million to resolve an AFFF class action lawsuit involving around 1,200 Wisconsin households. The people of the Marinette/Peshtigo region alleged that well contamination with PFAS caused them to become ill and lose their property value.

What to Expect in Firefighter AFFF Lawsuits

The future of firefighter AFFF lawsuits remains uncertain. While some settlements have been reached with public water systems regarding PFAS contamination, the focus of MDL is expected to shift toward individual lawsuits. Bloomberg Law recently reported that the court authorized one such settlement when it approved 3M’s $10 billion settlement in April 2024.

The outcome of these lawsuits will likely hinge on ongoing scientific research on PFAS and cancer, as well as legal arguments regarding manufacturer liability. It is possible that the courts could establish new legal precedents regarding the duty of manufacturers to warn about their products’ health risks.


What is PFAS in foam? 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals used in firefighting foam to extinguish liquid fuel fires. These chemicals are very stable and don’t break down easily, leading to concerns about environmental contamination.

Are firefighters at higher risk for cancer? 

Yes, firefighters may be at a higher risk for certain cancers due to potential exposure to PFAS in firefighting foam. Studies suggest a link between PFAS and cancers like testicular and kidney cancer.

What is the 3M foam lawsuit?

This lawsuit involves firefighters suing 3M, a major AFFF foam manufacturer. Firefighters allege 3M knew or should have known about the health risks of PFAS in their foam but failed to warn them. The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical conditions firefighters believe are linked to PFAS exposure.

In summary, the ongoing AFFF lawsuits underscore a critical intersection between public health and corporate accountability. Firefighters facing heightened cancer risks due to PFAS exposure are united in seeking justice through the legal system. This collective action not only aims to secure compensation but also to drive stricter regulatory measures and transparency regarding chemical safety. 

The litigation’s progress and potential settlements could significantly impact industry standards. This emphasizes the necessity for rigorous safety testing and clear communication of health risks associated with chemical products. This movement highlights the broader implications of PFAS contamination on both environmental and human health.

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