Two residents of Martinsburg, West Virginia, have filed a new class action lawsuit alleging the manufacturers of Aqueous Film Forming (AFF) firefighter foams were responsible for their city’s contaminated drinking water.
According to a complaint filed on April 29th in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of West Virginia, AFF foams used at the Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base at Martinsburg’s airport contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other adverse health effects.
In 2014, tests conducted by the City of Martinsburg detected perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) at 74 parts per trillion in water taken from the Big Springs Water Plant. Additional testing in May 2016 found perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) at 114 parts per trilling, well above the U.S. Environmental Protection “Lifetime Health Advisory” of 70 parts per trillion.
PFOS and PFOA are two of the PFAS found in AFF firefighting foam. Shepherd Field is considered the source of the contamination discovered at the Big Springs in 2016.
The newly filed firefighter foam lawsuit claims the 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, National Foam Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Co., Chemguard, E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co., and The Chemours Co., of “deliberately concealed the dangers of PFAS and withheld scientific evidence, and intentionally, knowingly and recklessly sold, distributed, released, transported, supplied, arranged for disposal or treatment, and handled and used PFAS and PFAS containing materials in West Virginia in a way that they knew would contaminate natural resources and expose Martinsburg residents to harm.”
The Martinsburg firefighter lawsuit has since been transferred to the U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina, where more than 580 similar cases involving the same defendants have been centralized in multidistrict litigation for the purpose of coordinated pretrial proceedings. In addition to personal injury lawsuits filed by individual cancer victims or their survivors, the docket also includes claims brought by municipalities – including many located near military installations that used AFF firefighting foams– seeking compensation for PFAS-contaminated drinking water.
PFAS have earned the nickname “forever chemicals,” as once they accumulate in the environment or human body, they persist for years and never break down. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs , exposure to PFAS in firefighter foams may increase the risk of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
Other adverse health effects potentially linked to AFF firefighter foams include fertility issues and pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia, increased cholesterol, immune system changes, changes in fetal and child development, liver damage, thyroid disease, and asthma.
According to the Environmental Working Group, the Pentagon has known for decades that the PFAS used to manufacture AFFF are toxic. Last December, Congress mandated that PFAS-containing firefighter foams be phased out by 2024. A year earlier, the Federal Aviation Administration was directed to modify its rules to allow municipal airports to use PFAS-free alternatives.