Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is an organosilicon foam used by the military, firefighters, and other first responders. Although initially designed to put out fires, AFFF has expanded to include oil spills and other extreme weather events.
AFFF has been identified as a potentially toxic substance that can cause health problems and environmental damage if not properly managed. Almost 900 forever chemicals are released into US waterways from firefighting foam.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of lawsuits against manufacturers of AFFF. We will also go through what’s known about its hazards, how these lawsuits have shaped corporate accountability, and what’s next.
Human Health Concerns Related to AFFF
The main ingredients of AFFF are fluorine-based surfactants and water. The chemical name for fluorine is fluoro, which comes from the Latin word “to flow.” Fluorine is highly reactive with other elements, so unsurprisingly, these chemicals can be toxic to humans and animals. That’s why the government has placed the maximum limit of fluoride allowed in public drinking water in the US at 4.0 mg/L.
AFFF extinguishes fires by forming a film over the treated surface, preventing oxygen from reaching the flames below. They include per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), making AFFF toxic for humans. These PFAS chemicals have been linked to numerous health issues.
According to TorHoerman Law, constant exposure to AFFF can lead to the following health problems:
- Kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumors, etc.
The website states that many studies have proven the relationship between PFAS chemicals and these health problems. After the results from these studies were published, several users who developed health problems filed lawsuits against manufacturers like DuPont, 3M, and others.
If you are a firefighter, military personnel, or someone constantly exposed to AFFF, you can also file a lawsuit. If you think your health condition is due to PFAS chemicals in AFFF, contact a lawyer and file an AFFF lawsuit. The attorney will help you collect the evidence required to prove your claim and get compensation from the manufacturers.
Environmental Concerns Related to AFFF
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers PFOS and PFOA persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic compounds (PBTs). These chemicals do not break down easily in the environment and can accumulate in organisms over time. In humans, they’re associated with health effects such as developmental problems in children, cancer, changes in hormone levels, and more.
In wildlife studies on animals exposed to either PFOS or PFOA through contaminated water sources or food webs have shown similar effects, including:
- Reduced fertility rates
- Changes to immune system function
- Altered organ size/functionality
- Increased susceptibility to disease occurrence
- Mortality among newborns due to birth defects induced by the exposure
AFFF Lawsuits: Legal Landscape
Several types of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of AFFF. The first type is a product liability lawsuit, which alleges that the manufacturer failed to warn users about potential health risks. In these cases, plaintiffs argue that they would not have used the product if they had known about its dangers.
Another common type of AFFF lawsuit involves claims made under state law based on strict liability. Strict tort laws hold parties responsible for damages caused by their products, even if no negligence was involved in manufacturing or distributing them. Instead, all it takes is proof that someone was harmed by something used adequately and then proving what caused said harm.
Many individuals have filed AFFF lawsuits, and attorneys still accept new cases. Data from ConsumerNotice states that there are at least 5,227 pending AFFF lawsuits across the U.S. as of July 2023. While some manufacturers have agreed to settle the cases out of court, some are trying to fight them.
Legal Challenges and Implications
AFFF lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of AFFF and municipalities. The suits allege that people have suffered severe health problems from exposure to AFFF. Both individuals and municipalities have made these claims, although courts have dismissed some suits on procedural grounds.
However, other cases are still pending; several settlements have been reached between plaintiffs and defendants over the last few years. These cases may provide helpful information about how courts view the AFFF toxicity litigation going forward.
Government Regulations and Remediation Efforts
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on AFFF toxicity in 2016. The report concluded that while there is no harm from short-term exposure, long-term exposure can lead to numerous health problems. That’s why the use of PFAS chemicals was started to be regulated strictly.
Any manufacturer using PFAS in its products needs to communicate about the same with EPA and other associated government bodies.
Moreover, the government is also monitoring the release of PFAS chemicals in water bodies to prevent contamination. The proportion of PFAS used in AFFF has also been reduced significantly. According to a recent revelation from defense.com, the current AFFF used by the defense department contains PFAS, but not more than 800 parts per billion.
Some of the remediation efforts made by the government are:
- Water treatment: Remediation efforts often focus on treating water sources contaminated with PFAS compounds from AFFF. Advanced water treatment technologies, such as activated carbon filtration and ion exchange, remove PFAS compounds from drinking water supplies.
- Site cleanup: Contaminated sites, particularly those near military bases and airports, have been the focus of cleanup efforts. Remediation may involve soil excavation, groundwater treatment, and containment strategies to prevent further migration of PFAS compounds.
- Research and development: Scientists and researchers have been working on developing alternative firefighting foams that are effective without containing PFAS chemicals. This research aims to create environmentally friendly and less toxic alternatives.
- Regulation and legislation: Efforts have been made to regulate and restrict the use of AFFF containing PFAS chemicals. Legislation in various regions aims to reduce the use of PFAS-containing products, especially in sensitive areas like airports and military installations.
- Public awareness: Increasing public awareness about the potential risks associated with PFAS-containing products, including AFFF, has increased pressure on governments to mitigate these risks.
The future of AFFF use is uncertain, but one thing is clear, the chemical poses a significant threat to human health and the environment. The EPA has taken steps to regulate its use, but these regulations are not yet comprehensive enough to address all the problems. It’s time for all of us, including industry leaders and lawmakers, to take action to protect our communities from this toxic chemical.