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Firefighters Beware: AFFF May Contain Cancer-Causing PFAS

If you work on or live near a military base, fire training facility or airport, do you know whether you’ve been exposed to dangerous PFAS?  Aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, is often used to suppress fires from spilled fuel or other gas.  Some of the chemicals that make it so effective in these scenarios also make it highly toxic to humans.

AFFF soaks into our soil and water, endangering not only those who work directly with the substance but also those who live near high-use areas. 

What You Should Know About the Dangers of AFFF

Groundwater contamination is a public health emergency, but unfortunately, the environment is much easier to pollute than to clean up.  Some chemicals persist for years or even centuries without degrading. 

Spreading Dangerous Chemicals Far and Wide

What exactly in AFFF puts humans in such danger?  Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, have been proven toxic to both humans and animals.  You may be familiar with some of these chemicals already. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used to make products that repel water, oil, and fire.  Plastic and cardboard packaging may have PFOA, a discovery that recently prompted the creation of safer storage materials.  Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is likewise used in a variety of products, including paints, varnishes, waxes, cleaners, and stain repellants.  Both captured national attention when scientists learned the extent of the danger they could cause.

PFAS Molecules Cause Many Health Hazards

Both for people exposed to these chemicals on the job and those who drink contaminated groundwater, PFAS molecules can have noticeable and serious effects on health.  One firefighter recalled experiencing chemical burns on his face after using AFFF.  He ended up taking medical leave from his job to seek treatment. 

Looking at Long-Term Dangers

Though acute chemical damage is a serious worry on its own, it’s only part of the story when it comes to PFAS molecules.  These compounds have been linked to a wide range of medical problems including:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Thyroid Disease, including Hypothyroidism

PFAS molecules might also affect reproductive organs and pregnancy.  Scientists believe they may cause:

  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia
  • Lower birth weight and size

Not all of these connections have been solidly proven, and its possible further research will uncover more ailments caused by PFAS exposure. 

Am I Likely to Get Sick?

Because the issue is fairly new, scientists are still determining the risk factors for PFAS-related illness.  They believe the amount of danger a person is in depends on:

  • Exposure levels
  • Frequency of exposure
  • Duration of exposure

For those who served as firefighters or on military bases where AFFF was common, the risk is greater than those who simply drank the PFAS in groundwater.  However, if you believe you’re at risk for PFAS-related illness, you should speak with speak with a doctor and consult a lawyer to know your legal rights.

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