Airports in Florida, Massachusetts Join Litigation Over Toxic Firefighting Foam

Published on March 3, 2020 by Sandy Liebhard

Airports in Florida and Massachusetts have sued firefighting foam manufacturers in a bid to obtain compensation for pollution allegedly caused by cancer-causing polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

500 Firefighting Foam Lawsuits Pending in Federal Litigation

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission agreed to file a firefighting foam lawsuit during its regular monthly meeting in February. According to the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the Commission has been working to mitigate PFAS contamination in private wells adjacent to the airport since November 2019.

The Sanford Airport Authority filed its own complaint last month in Florida’s Seminole County Superior Court. The lawsuit claims that the facility’s use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams resulted in contamination throughout the property. The airport further alleges that various defendants did not disclose the toxic nature and harmful effects of the products.

About 500 similar firefighting foam lawsuits are now pending in a multidistrict litigation underway in the U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina. While many of the complaints were filed on behalf of airports and other entities that used aqueous film-forming (AFF) firefighting foams, a growing number of firefighters are also pursuing individual personal injury lawsuits that allege their exposure to PFAS in these products contributed to their various cancers.

Defendants named in firefighting foam lawsuits include the 3M Company, DuPont Nemours, Chemours, Kidde, and Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, among others.

Firefighting Foam and PFAS

PFAS are manmade chemicals used in everything from stain retardant fabrics and Teflon cookware to food packaging and cleaning products. These “forever chemicals” don’t break down in the environment or the human body, and are known to interfere with immune function, endocrine function and breast development.

PFAS are also used to manufacture AFF firefighter foams. For decades, these products have been used at private and public airports, as well as military installations across the United States, to extinguish fires fed by jet fuel and other highly flammable liquids.

Two classes of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS – found in AFF firefighter foams have been linked to cancer and other adverse health effects in studies involving lab animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies both chemicals as “emerging contaminants,” and has established a “Lifetime Health Advisory” setting a recommended lifetime limit for exposure from drinking water.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has also issued a warning regarding increased risks of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and kidney cancer related to the use of firefighting foam at U.S. military installations.

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