AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam, has been used for decades in airport crash rescue and firefighter training. However, recent studies have found that the foam can contain toxic chemicals that affect humans and animals alike. Therefore, firefighters exposed to these chemicals are filing lawsuits against manufacturers. This article explores the intricate landscape of AFFF lawsuits and the latest developments in this unfolding legal saga.
When understanding AFFF, it’s important to know how it works. This foam is a fluorine-based firefighting agent that smothers flames and prevents them from spreading. AFFF was first developed by 3M in the 1960s. However, it wasn’t widely used until the 1970s. Since then, many businesses have adopted AFFF.
The reason behind this wide use of AFFF is its effectiveness in fighting fire. According to a ScienceDirect Journal, AFFF has the fastest fire extinguishing time of 42 seconds. To top that, it was achieved with the lowest weight of foam solution at 210g.
Here are some key aspects of AFFF:
- Film-forming properties: AFFF is designed to spread rapidly across the surface of flammable liquids. It forms a thin film or foam that suppresses the release of flammable vapors. This film effectively separates the fuel (liquid) from the oxygen in the air, preventing the combustion process.
- Fluorosurfactants: The inclusion of fluorosurfactants in AFFF enhances its ability to form a stable and durable foam layer. This helps the foam maintain its integrity on the surface of the liquid, providing an effective barrier against the ignition of vapors.
- Low surface tension: AFFF has a low surface tension, allowing it to spread easily across the surface of hydrocarbon fuels. This property helps to cover the fuel quickly and prevent the fire from spreading.
- Compatibility with water: AFFF is mixed with water to create the firefighting solution. The water content helps in cooling the fuel and surrounding areas and the foam’s ability to suppress vapors.
- Types of AFFF: There are different AFFF formulations, including AFFF concentrates for mixing with water on-site and pre-mixed solutions. Aqueous Film-Forming Foam is classified into two major types: AFFF for hydrocarbon fuels and AFFF for polar solvents.
Although AFFF is highly effective at fighting a fire, it is also associated with several health concerns.
Health Risks of AFFF
AFFF is toxic and has been linked to cancer and other health problems. AFFF contains fluorine-based chemicals like PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). These chemicals have been found in human blood samples around the world. They’re also present in seafood, tap water, dental floss, and AFFF foam used during airport firefighting operations.
AFFF also has per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). For instance, a SETAC Journal study shows that there is 3-6% of PFAS in the AFFF. There are some non-fluorinated surfactants and stabilizers in AFFF, as well. These are forever chemicals and are known to be carcinogenic.
According to TruLaw, chemicals can accumulate within your body. This accumulation can lead to health conditions like various cancers, developmental defects, reproductive issues, etc. According to the Guardian, women with higher levels of forever chemicals in their blood have a 40% lower chance of conceiving.
In fact, many firefighters have already been diagnosed with several health problems. Hence, they have filed AFFF lawsuits against manufacturers.
Through AFFF lawsuits, these firefighters seek compensation for their damages. Although AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts have not been decided yet, experts believe they can range from $10,000 to $300,000. The amount can vary based on factors like the strength of the case, exposure level, severity of health problems, etc.
PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals that have been widely used in various industrial and consumer products, including firefighting foams like AFFF. Here are some key environmental impacts associated with AFFF:
- Groundwater contamination: AFFF releases PFAS into the environment, and there have been instances where PFAS compounds from firefighting foams have leached into groundwater, leading to contamination. This contamination can affect drinking water sources and ecosystems.
- Bioaccumulation: PFAS can bioaccumulate in organisms, meaning that they can build up in the tissues of living organisms over time. This bioaccumulation can occur in plants, animals, and humans, potentially leading to health concerns for organisms higher up the food chain.
- Effects on aquatic life: PFAS contamination from AFFF can have adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems. Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS can impact aquatic organisms’ health and reproductive success, including fish and other wildlife.
Recent Developments in AFFF Litigations
Many studies have been published to support the plaintiffs. In October 2023, a study was performed to explore the link between PFOS and testicular cancer. The results of the study were published on the cancer.org website. The results show that increased PFOS levels in the blood increase the risk of testicular cancer.
Another study conducted in October 2023 explored the link between PFAS chemicals and thyroid cancer. Published in The Lancet, the study revealed a 56% increased risk of thyroid cancer in people with higher PFAS exposure.
This has led to numerous lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers. According to Time, there were more than 15,000 claims that have been filed in the US until July 2023. These lawsuits are filed against major PFAS manufacturers like DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva, along with 3M.
Moreover, firefighters and military officials are still filing new lawsuits against these companies. For instance, the Delaware Attorney General recently filed a lawsuit against 14 companies. The concern was that a single training exercise could release several gallons of PFAS.
The proceedings on AFFF lawsuits are going well. However, this is still a good sign for individual firefighters. If the decisions for these trials go against AFFF manufacturers, it will be easier for firefighters to seek compensation.
The bottom line is that the fallout from AFFF lawsuits underscores the complex challenges associated with PFAS contamination. As legal battles unfold, affected communities, environmental advocates, and regulatory bodies are pushing for accountability, stricter regulations, and the development of safer firefighting alternatives.
The evolution of AFFF litigation will undoubtedly continue to shape. Environmental policy and impact industries rely on these firefighting foams. It will ultimately influence how societies approach the balance between public safety and environmental stewardship.
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