In February 2023, “The Seattle Times” detailed the experiences of new firefighters during the 1980s who joined the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and underwent a “foam shower” ritual.
During this ritual, the recruits were required to stand approximately 150 feet away on the tarmac. They held 5-gallon buckets and attempted to catch the firefighting foam sprayed from a water cannon attached to a crash-response truck.
Despite wearing necessary protective gear like heat-resistant clothing and helmets, they inevitably soaked up the foamy white substance. This tradition was seen as a symbolic “rite of passage,” according to Thomas Sanchez, a retired firefighter from the Port of Seattle.
The foam used in these exercises contained PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), which is crucial for extinguishing fires in airport settings. It was also marketed as environmentally safe.
However, PFAS is now commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” due to its persistence, resulting resulted in groundwater contamination nationwide, even beneath the Sea-Tac airport. Regulatory bodies are currently determining the most suitable and long-term cleanup strategy.
The foam has proved to be harmful to firefighters. At the Port of Seattle alone, three individuals have developed pancreatic cancer, a disease associated with exposure to even small amounts of PFAS.
This blog will focus on exploring the health risks associated with firefighting foam and providing information on legal assistance for individuals affected by PFAS exposure.
PFAS & The Health Hazards It Causes
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, PFAS is a vast family of artificial chemical compounds that are found in various consumer products such as waxes, non-stick products, polishes, cleaning products, and paints. It is known as ‘forever chemicals’ because it does not break down. When absorbed into the human body, it remains present.
Recently, the European Commission assigned the ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) the task to investigate the health and environmental risks due to PFAS exposure through firefighting foam. The report as of March 2022 asserted that when ingested there is evidence of PFAS causing varied health hazards to humans.
The US EPA22 sheds light on studies that suggest long-chain PFOA and PFOS lead to developmental and reproductive problems. It results in adverse effects on the kidneys and liver. The chemicals are also known to cause tumors in animals.
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry stated that PFAS is linked to ailments, such as:
- Increased cholesterol
- Thyroid problems
- Preeclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnant women
- Changes in the immune system
- Reduced response to children’s vaccination
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Reduces the birth weight of infants
- Testicular and kidney cancer
The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) has identified AFFF (Aqueous film-forming foams) and PFAS as carcinogenic and toxic for both humans and animals. It is an occupational hazard that leads to cancer and various health issues.
Victims Should File a Legal Complaint
Lawsuits, termed as class actions in the United States, have been filed against AFFF manufacturers. It indicates that manufacturers like DuPont and 3M were aware of the cancer risk linked with these substances, but didn’t convey the same to users.
One firefighting foam lawsuit in the City of Stuart alleges that its water supply was contaminated by AFFF used while conducting firefighting training exercises. Therefore, the city is currently suing AFFF manufacturers, which includes 3M, for their failure to warn the public at large. The lawsuit trial was held in June 2023.
TorHoerman Law states that chemical plant workers, military personnel, firefighters, and others exposed to the fire-fighting foam can develop severe health hazards. Despite government agencies’ efforts to mitigate PFAS, those who have experienced harm should seek legal assistance. Individuals affected by PFAS should gather medical proof and file a legal complaint against the concerned AFFF manufacturer with the help of a lawyer.
Furthermore, the statute of limitations is extended to the date when an individual discovers the link between their medical diagnosis and the products responsible for their ailment.
In March 2023, a Forbes news report highlighted that President Biden aims to make a profound appearance at a firefighter’s event. First time in 2 decades a sitting president took the initiative to address the group. Simultaneously, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), plans to up its efforts to substitute the dangerous working gears of members, because of the PFAS inclusion.
To ensure that there is less or no damage to human health, the firefighting foams having fluorine need to be replaced. According to ECHA, fluorine-free foams are the best option, as it doesn’t remain in the environment and lead to toxic effects.
The government is trying to arrive at the best possible solution to eradicate the AFFF issue. In the meantime, individuals who have suffered from it should seek both medical and legal assistance.