New Bill Calls for Use of Cancer-Causing Firefighting Foam to be Phased Out

New legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate calls for the Department of Defense to phase out the use of firefighting foam, or aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which has been linked to a risk of cancer among firefighters, as well as groundwater and drinking water contamination near military bases, commercial airports and other locations where firefighting foam is routinely used to extinguish jet fuel and petroleum fires. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious health problem after being exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in toxic firefighting foam, contact an experienced firefighter foam cancer attorney today to explore your possible compensation options.

Why Makes Firefighting Foam Toxic?

The use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in AFFF, known collectively as PFAS, gives firefighting foam its low surface tension and ability to spread, which makes it an effective tool for use against flammable liquid fires. Since it was first developed in the 1960s, firefighting foam has been used by the U.S. military and by fire departments across the country to control petroleum-based fires that cannot be extinguished by water alone. However, serious concerns have emerged about the safety of the fluorosurfactants in AFFF, which have been tied to a number of serious adverse health consequences, including thyroid disease, liver damage, obesity, hormone suppression, decreased fertility and several different types of cancer. The chemicals have also been found in the water supplies near several U.S. military bases where firefighting foam was routinely used during training exercises.

The problem with PFAS/PFOA/PFOS is multifaceted. For one, the chemicals can enter the environment and the human body through the air, soil, food or water, and once they are there, there is virtually no way to get rid of them. That is because PFAS can take thousands of years to degrade, during which time they can continue to damage the environment and harm human health. In fact, PFAS are so persistent in the environment and the human body that they have been nicknamed “forever chemicals.” With prolonged exposure to PFAS through the use of firefighting foam or through contaminated groundwater or drinking water, the chemicals can build up in the blood, liver and kidneys and pose a serious health risk. PFAS chemicals are also found in a number of household products and foods, though the FDA has said that exposure to PFAS in food does not constitute a human health concern.

DoD Urged to Find Alternative to AFFF

Amid growing concerns about the health risks of PFAS exposure, the Department of Defense has faced increased pressure to find an alternative to AFFF for fighting jet fuel and petroleum fires. Earlier this month, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2021, which contains provisions aimed at addressing concerns about contaminated sources of drinking water from PFAS and facilitating the phasing out of PFAS-containing AFFF. The committee issued an executive summary of the NDAA on June 11, and the bill will now advance to the Senate floor for consideration.

Absent a nationwide ban on AFFF, several U.S. states have already taken steps to protect residents from exposure to the toxic chemicals in firefighting foam. In December 2019, New York governor Andrew Cuomo approved legislation to ban the use of PFAS-based firefighter foam for training purposes and for use in fighting certain kinds of fires. The Washington State Senate, in March, approved a bill that would phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. And, as part of an unprecedented statewide PFAS foam disposal program, the state of Michigan recently collected more than 30,000 gallons of firefighting foam from commercial airports and municipal fire departments for shipment to a hazardous waste landfill.

Lawsuits Against Manufacturers of Firefighting Foam

A nationwide phase-out of toxic firefighting foam would mark a significant triumph for those who have suffered the adverse effects of exposure to PFAS chemicals in AFFF and are pursuing legal claims for damages. A number of companies that manufacture firefighting foam have already been sued in federal court and the lawsuits have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). If you have been diagnosed with cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease or another serious medical condition and you believe exposure to PFOA or PFOS in firefighter foam to be the cause, do not hesitate to speak to a qualified AFFF injury lawyer about your legal options.