Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used in diverse settings from firefighting training facilities to military bases.
It has become the subject of a growing number of lawsuits. Forbes notes that as of November 2022, there were over 3000 lawsuits pending in the AFFF litigation.
These lawsuits shed light on the hidden dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), particularly perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). As the litigation unfolds, it uncovers the gravity of long-term exposure and the serious health risks, including cancer, associated with these “forever chemicals.”
In this article, we will dive into the unfolding narrative of AFFF lawsuits while exploring the scope of PFAS health hazards.
The Genesis of AFFF and PFAS
AFFF was developed as a critical firefighting tool to combat flammable liquid fires. Its efficacy lies in a carefully engineered composition that includes PFAS substances.
According to AboutLawsuits, industry leaders like 3M have played a crucial role in incorporating PFAS into AFFF formulations. Chemguard and Tyco Fire Products are two other major manufacturers of these products.
The historical use of these chemicals dates back to the 1950s when PFAS found applications in various consumer and industrial products.
AFFF Application and Functionality
Firefighters deploy AFFF to tackle fires that water alone struggles to control, particularly those involving flammable liquids like petroleum. The foam, available in three percent and six percent formulas, contains water and chemical components, including ethylene and propylene glycol.
According to ITRCweb.org, when applied to a fire, AFFF creates a film, suppressing flames, cooling the fire, and preventing re-ignition. The effectiveness of AFFF makes it an indispensable tool in the arsenal of firefighting, especially in scenarios where traditional water-based methods fall short.
PFAS and Health Concerns
The use of PFAS in AFFF raises significant health concerns, particularly long-term exposure risks. PFOS and PFOA, two common PFAS found in AFFF, have been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the IARC.
Studies indicate that these chemicals accumulate in the body over time, potentially leading to adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer. Understanding these health risks is crucial for individuals working with AFFF and those living near facilities where it is used.
Regulatory Actions and Environmental Impact
Despite the known risks, regulatory actions addressing PFAS in AFFF have been relatively recent. The EPA’s Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) issued in January 2021 aims to regulate certain long-chain PFAS. The SNUR restricts their import, manufacture, and use without EPA approval.
However, older AFFF stock containing PFAS remains a concern, posing environmental and health risks as these chemicals may leach into water sources. Ongoing efforts to phase out and regulate PFAS highlight the importance of mitigating environmental contamination and protecting public health.
AFFF Lawsuits and Growing Litigation
The surge in AFFF lawsuits underscores the growing awareness of the potential health hazards associated with PFAS exposure. TorHoerman Law notes that thousands of cases, including a substantial number in South Carolina multidistrict litigation, target manufacturers like 3M.
Allegations revolve around the claim that these companies were aware of the health risks posed by AFFF but failed to provide adequate warnings. The legal landscape is evolving rapidly, with implications not only for the manufacturers but also for individuals seeking compensation for health issues.
In June 2023, 3M reached a tentative $10 billion settlement with multiple U.S. cities and towns over contamination claims. While this proposed settlement signifies a recognition of the potential harm caused by AFFF, it has not been finalized. This has left room for further negotiations and potential rejection by involved parties.
AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts vary, with some cases involving substantial compensations for affected individuals and communities. As the legal process unfolds, these settlements become crucial indicators of how manufacturers are being held accountable for the health impacts of their products.
The outcomes of these settlements may also influence the trajectory of future lawsuits and the overall approach to addressing the consequences of AFFF exposure.
Health Risks and Adverse Effects
Individuals exposed to AFFF, especially those working directly with the foam for extended periods, face an elevated risk of adverse health effects. Reported conditions include various cancers, immune system damage, fertility issues, and thyroid disease.
The severity of these health risks is emphasized by the ongoing lawsuits, with plaintiffs attributing their illnesses to prolonged exposure to AFFF-containing PFAS. As the legal proceedings unfold, the outcomes may set precedents for future cases, influencing how industries approach the use of PFAS-containing products.
Future Implications and Industry Accountability
As AFFF lawsuits progress, the potential implications for manufacturers and entities involved become significant. Major settlements, like the tentative $10 billion agreement offered by 3M, may shape industry accountability.
The legal developments underscore the need for heightened awareness regarding PFAS risks, both among those directly exposed to AFFF and the general public. This has prompted a reevaluation of firefighting practices and the chemicals used in these crucial applications.
In summary, the escalating AFFF lawsuits underscore the pressing health risks linked to PFAS exposure, urging a vital overhaul of industry practices. Noteworthy settlements, such as the $10 billion tentative agreement with 3M, mark a critical moment in enforcing manufacturer accountability.
These legal shifts emphasize the urgent need for heightened awareness and stringent regulations to prioritize public health over the detrimental impacts of PFAS exposure. Ultimately, this helps shape a future where responsible practices prevail.