The consolidated litigation established for all federally filed lawsuits involving aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) continues to move forward in the U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina, where more than 800 cases have been filed on behalf of firefighters and other individuals who allege the products caused their cancers.
For decades, AFFFs were used by civilian and military firefighting crews to extinguish fuel-based fires, including many products made with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While these chemicals are resistant to heat, grease, stains, and water, studies conducted since the late 1960s have linked PFAS exposure to toxic effects that can impact the liver, testicles, and other organs.
By the 1980s, research suggested an association between PFAS and testicular tumors. Dupont, a major manufacturer of AFFFs, also determined that PFAS were carcinogenic to animals and possibly humans. However, neither firefighters nor those living in areas where PFAS were used were ever informed of these findings.
Additional studies conducted in the past few decades have linked PFAS to an increased risk of cancer. In 2010, both the 3M Company and DuPont tied the chemicals to health problems experienced by workers exposed to PFAS.
Because they accumulate in the environment and the human body and never break down, PFAS have come to be known as the forever chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies two specific PFAS used in firefighting foams — PFOA and PFOS — as “emerging contaminants.” It 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 AFFF at U.S. military installations.
In recent years, a growing number of plaintiffs who developed cancer following exposure to AFFF have filed firefighting foam lawsuits in federal courts around the United States. In December 2018, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the cases before a single federal judge in the District of South Carolina, allowing the cases to undergo coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. As of November 16, 2020, the litigation had grown to include 836 cases.
All of the plaintiffs involved in the litigation generally allege that AFFFs containing PFOA and PFOS contaminated groundwater near various military bases, airports, and other industrial sites where firefighting foams were used. These claimants seek damages for personal injury, a need for medical monitoring, property damage, and other economic losses.
Defendants named in the lawsuits include the 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., Chemours Company, Chubb Fire, Ltd., Corteva, Inc., DuPont De Nemours Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde, National Foam Inc. Tyco Fire Products, and United Technologies Corporation.