Firefighting Foam (AFFF)
AFFF has been in use by firefighters across the world to fight fires because it can effectively smother fires that involve flammable liquids like gasoline or oil. However, PFAS chemicals used in AFFF have been linked to cancer.
Firefighters who use AFFF regularly in their jobs are at greater risk of developing certain cancers. Those who use AFFF in their work aren’t the only ones at risk, however. PFAS, which are chemicals operative in making AFFF so effective against flammable liquids, can seep into groundwater, contaminating drinking supplies for both humans and animals.
PFAS spreads easily because it’s easily dissolved in water and it doesn’t break down, which means that chemicals can remain in the environment where AFFF was used for thousands of years, putting anyone living nearby at risk far into the future.
If you or a loved one has developed one of the cancers linked to prolonged exposure to AFFF, you may have a case against the manufacturer of that firefighting foam. Thousands of people have already filed lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers, claiming that the companies were aware of the cancer risks decades ago but failed to inform fire departments and consumers of those risks. Contact us today for a free consultation. You won’t have to pay a dime unless your case is successful.
What Is Firefighter Foam?
Firefighter foam, or firefighting foam, plays a major role in successfully fighting fires. It was originally developed over 100 years ago to fight oil fires that wouldn’t easily respond to water. Since its invention, the exact formula used to make firefighting foam has been changed to be more effective.
Uses of Firefighting Foam
Firefighting foam is now typically used for securing flammable liquids, whether they’re actually on fire yet or not. It’s also sometimes used on regular items as well in order to aid the usage of water and make it more effective in fighting the flames. There are many different kinds of firefighting foam, each typically designed with a specific purpose in mind.
Types of Fires
The types of fire that foams are designed to combat include:
- Class A: normal flammable materials like paper, wood, rubber, cloth, and some plastics.
- Class B: flammable liquids like oil, grease, gasoline, oil-based paints, solvents, alcohols, tars, and certain gasses.
- Class C: electrical equipment.
- Class D: combustible metals such as potassium, magnesium, titanium, zirconium, lithium, and sodium.
- Class K: cooking appliances that use fats, vegetable oil, or animal-based oil.
Types of Firefighting Foam
There are a number of different types of firefighting foams. Each type of foam is designed to combat a specific type of fire. Electrical fires and grease fires, for example, may not respond very well to water but can be doused with the appropriate firefighting foam. Portable fire extinguishers are available for personal and business use. Firefighters typically have to combat larger fires and have a larger supply of firefighting foam on hand.
Types of Firefighting Foam Used by Firefighters
Firefighters typically have three different varieties of firefighting foam that are classified by the foam’s expansion ratio.
- Low-expansion foam
- Medium-expansion foam
- High-expansion foam
Which is used depends on the spread of the fire, what is on fire, and the nature of the room that contains the fire.
What Is AFFF?
AFFF stands for aqueous film-forming foam and is a type of firefighting foam. It’s typically used to fight Class B fires, which are those involving flammable liquids like oil and gasoline. AFFF is produced both for portable fire extinguishers and for firefighters to use in firefighting.
The Dangers of AFFF
This type of firefighting foam, while commonly used, is not without its risks. The foam is made with PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, which are also known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down easily. While they’re effective at fighting fires, PFAS can be harmful to both humans and the environment.
WHAT ARE PFAS?
PFAS are chemicals found in firefighting foams and some common household products to make them water- and oil-resistant. There are over 9,000 different chemicals that fall into this category, including those used in AFFF. AFFF use PFAS because they:
- Dissolve easily in water
- Are resistant to heat
- Spread quickly
HOW DO PFAS WORK TO PUT OUT FIRES?
PFAS are what make the film in an AFFF. They work by creating a film on top of the flammable liquid, which cuts the liquid off from the oxygen in the air that feeds the fire. Deprived of the oxygen it needs, the fire wouldn’t be able to continue to burn.
The Risks of PFAS
According to the CDC, PFAS pose a number of risks, both to those using them for work, like firefighters, and to those spending time in the community where the PFAS were used. Additionally, they’re difficult to clean up because:
- They dissolve easily in water
- They don’t naturally break down
Because PFAS can easily dissolve in water, they can contaminate water sources and quickly spread into drinking water, groundwater, and other natural water sources. Since they don’t break down on their own, they instead stay in the environment and can’t easily be removed. Humans and animals could therefore be at an increased risk of exposure to PFAS for thousands of years into the future.
COMMUNITY EXPOSURE TO PFAS
The general public can be exposed to PFAS through the following:
- Drinking water
- Consumer products
WORK EXPOSURE TO PFAS
Certain workers are more likely to be exposed to PFAS than others:
- Chemical manufacturers
- Ski wax technicians
Cancers Linked to AFFF
Prolonged exposure to AFFF, whether through breathing, drinking, or touch, can increase the risk of developing one of the following cancers:
Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the prostate, a gland in men that is part of the semen production system. This kind of cancer is one of the most common and, depending on the person, may spread very slowly, spending most of the time confined to the prostate, where it’s more easily treated. In some, however, prostate cancer can spread very quickly and aggressively.
SYMPTOMS OF PROSTATE CANCER
The symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Bloody semen
- Bloody urine
- Bone pain
- Decreased strength in the urine stream
- Erectile dysfunction
- Unintended weight loss
Testicular cancer is a cancer that occurs in the cells within the testicles in men. This sort of cancer isn’t terribly common and can grow quickly to spread elsewhere in the body. It most commonly occurs in those between the ages of 15 and 45 but can happen to men of any age. Despite how fast testicular cancer can spread, it’s actually typically rather treatable.
SYMPTOMS OF TESTICULAR CANCER
The symptoms of testicular cancer can include:
- A lump in either testicle
- Swelling in either testicle
- A heavy feeling in the scrotum
- Swelling in the scrotum
- A dull, aching feeling in the groin
- A dull, aching feeling in the lower belly
- Back pain
- Enlarged breast tissue
- Tender breast tissue
- Testicle pain or discomfort
- Scrotum pain or discomfort
Kidney cancer starts in the kidneys, which are the organs responsible for things like controlling blood pressure and blood sugar. In adults, kidney cancer is usually renal cell carcinoma, which is the most common type of kidney cancer. Wilms’ tumor is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. Recently, there has been an increasing number of different kinds of kidney cancers. This is thought to be due to improved imaging techniques that are being used more frequently and can therefore detect kidney cancers better.
SYMPTOMS OF KIDNEY CANCER
The symptoms of kidney cancer can include:
- Pain in the back that doesn’t go away
- Pain in the side that doesn’t go away
- Bloody urine (can appear red, pink, or cola-colored)
- Unexplained weight loss
Liver cancer is an umbrella term for several different types of cancer that all begin in the liver cells. The most common of these is hepatocellular carcinoma, which occurs in the hepatocyte cells of the liver. Other liver cancers, such as hepatoblastoma or intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, aren’t as commonly occurring.
SYMPTOMS OF LIVER CANCER
The symptoms of liver cancer can include:
- Unintended weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Chalky, white stools
Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the pancreas, an organ that helps to regulate blood sugar and aid digestion. The most common kind of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which occurs in the ducts of the pancreas that transfer the enzymes that help with digestion out of the pancreas and to the rest of the body. Pancreatic cancers are unfortunately not often detected in their early stages. This means that by the time they’re discovered and diagnosed, they’re in later stages and are much more difficult to treat. This occurs because pancreatic cancer often doesn’t have any symptoms at all in the earlier stages and therefore isn’t noticed until it’s spread to other organs.
SYMPTOMS OF PANCREATIC CANCER
In its early stages, there typically aren’t any symptoms. In the later stages of pancreatic cancer, symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Appetite loss
- Unintended weight loss
- Blood clots
- Itchy skin
- Urine that is darkly colored
- Stools that are light-colored
- New or worsening diabetes
National Firefighter Registry for Cancer
In April of 2023, the CDC announced the creation of the NFR for Cancer, a registry that is designed to track and analyze cancer trends among firefighters, who face risks other than just those related to AFFF. Smoke inhalation and more can also affect their health. The NFR for Cancer is part of President Biden’s cancer-fighting Project Moonshot and is run by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Do Firefighters Still Use AFFF?
AFFF is very quickly being phased out due to the damage it can cause to the environment and its links to cancer in humans. The National Fire Protection Association reported that the US military, which originally developed AFFF back in the 1960s, planned to stop using the substance entirely in 2024 and has been working on developing new foam that would replace AFFF.
Replacement Firefighting Foam
Replacements for AFFF have been in development for around a decade. Many of these foams’ manufacturers claim that they work against fires without using the chemicals that are present in AFFF. Tests have been ongoing and while initial reports show that the tests are going well, the new foams work differently from AFFF and therefore a transition is more complicated than simply switching over to a new foam. Additionally, many of these foams are, while effective, aren’t as good as AFFF at dousing fire and much more of the foam would be required to smother the same amount of flame than would be needed with AFFF.
Problems with Replacing AFFF
Another issue that comes with replacing AFFF is that any new foam may be used differently. Experts agree that replacing AFFF is necessary due to the risks to health and the environment, but there are some additional costs involved with replacement foam options. Some of these costs may come in the form of training, as while new foam options are available, they are different to use than AFFF and firefighters would need to learn new techniques in order to use them to combat fires. Additionally, any fire department that still had leftover AFFF would need to figure out how to safely dispose of the older foam in a way that wouldn’t contaminate water sources.
A number of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of AFFF, which include 3M, DuPont, and others. The first wave of lawsuits began in 2017, claiming that AFFF manufacturers were aware of the link between AFFF and cancer and failed to warn of the risks. As lawsuits began to pile up, they were consolidated into an MDL (multidistrict litigation), and by 2023, the class-action MDL lawsuit involved thousands of cases.
As of 2023, the specific case City of Stuart v. 3M Co., et al. is being tried as a bellwether case. This is a test trial that occurs with a few select cases prior to the MDL. The idea is for the initial bellwether cases to function as a benchmark. The other MDL cases are similar in nature to the bellwether case and so the results can be a good indication of how subsequent trials may fare in court.
Should I Consider an AFFF Lawsuit?
If you were exposed to AFFF consistently for more than 5 years, either through gear exposure or via your drinking water, you may have a case against the AFFF manufacturer if you also developed one of the following cancers:
- Prostate cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
Before taking any action, it’s important to discuss all of your options with an attorney who is well-versed in taking on companies that fail to properly warn consumers of the risks of using their products. If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of such long exposure to AFFF and developed one of the qualifying cancers, you may have a case. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. We’d like to fight for you to get the compensation and justice that you deserve and you won’t pay us a cent unless your case is successful.