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Military personnel and firefighters often use flame-retardant foam rather than water to put out fires. Unfortunately, one type of these foams—aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)—has been associated with many adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer. What should those who have been exposed to AFFF know?
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AFFF is a concentrate that is mixed with water to create a foam; fluorine-free foams are then used to extinguish liquid fuel fires. Although AFFF is effective at fighting fires and has therefore been widely used by airports and U.S. fire departments for more than 50 years, it poses some major risks. Along with airport workers and firefighters, others who have the highest health risks from AFFF exposure work at:
- Chemical plants
- Flammable liquid storage and processing facilities
- Emergency response organizations
- Oil tankers and offshore platforms
- Oil refineries
AFFF contains both perfluoroalkyl (PFOA) and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS), neither of which break down naturally in the environment.
AFFF Health Concerns
The PFAS that are contained in AFFF are carcinogenic to animals—and likely humans too. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified PFOA as a possible carcinogen, while the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (along with the Environmental Protection Agency) have linked PFAS to a number of different health problems. Some of the non-cancer health concerns that are associated with AFFF (and therefore PFAS) exposure include:
- Higher cholesterol
- High blood pressure, including preeclampsia for those who are pregnant
- Muted immune response to vaccination
- Changes in your immune system
- Changes in your liver enzymes
- Lower infant birth weight
- Thyroid problems
PFAS has also been associated with a higher risk of developing kidney cancer and testicular cancer among other types of cancer.
AFFF Firefighting Foam Cancer
The main U.S.-based manufacturer of PFOS (3M) has already phased out its production of this toxic chemical beginning in 2002. And other companies, including DuPont and Chemours, followed suit in 2006. But though AFFF is no longer being widely produced, it remains in use by fire departments and other businesses throughout the U.S. And because the active chemicals in AFFF don’t break down in the environment, manufacturers are also faced with the dilemma of how to dispose of expired AFFF.
AFFF’s manufacturers are currently embroiled in litigation seeking to hold them liable for cancer and other health conditions related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)and PFOA toxicity. Five years ago, DuPont and Chemours paid more than $670 million to settle 3,550 West Virginia firefighting foam cancer lawsuits brought by those who were damaged by PFOA in the environment. And as recently as March 2020, an Ohio jury awarded $50 million to a man who developed testicular cancer as a result of AFFF exposure. Other plaintiffs have filed a firefighting foam lawsuit in state and federal courts, alleging that AFFF exposure caused ulcerative colitis (UC), kidney, bladder, breast, and testicular cancer, kidney cysts, non-cancerous tumors, and various other ailments.
How The Ferraro Law Firm Can Help
If you or a loved one has developed cancer or is experiencing other health issues as a result of your AFFF exposure, you may be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer. At The Ferraro Law Firm, we’re focused on each client’s case and will use all our resources to ensure you have the most robust representation possible. To schedule your free consultation, just fill out our free case consultation form and a member of our team will soon be in touch.
Frequently Asked Questions: AFFFs
Is AFFF a carcinogen?
While AFFF itself is not classified as a carcinogen, fire-fighting foam does contain several known carcinogenic compounds, meaning that it has been shown to cause cancer in humans. This is because many AFFF types contain PFOS and PFOA, which are both highly toxic. According to a study performed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Harvard, these chemicals in aqueous film-forming foams have been linked to a wide range of cancers, particularly cancer of the kidneys, bladder, and testicles. AFFF exposure can also result in endocrine disruption and other serious complications.
Is AFFF foam toxic?
Yes, aqueous film-forming foams are considered to be toxic, especially if they contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFA) substances like PFOS and PFOA. Aside from posing a serious cancer risk with long-term exposure, PFA chemicals can accumulate and remain stored inside the body for long periods of time. As toxic buildup increases, you may be in danger of developing thyroid disease and other life-threatening illnesses. In addition to AFFF, PFAs can be found in commercial waxes, paints, and household products.
What chemicals are in AFFF foam?
While stable aqueous foams are effective at stopping fire, it takes many complex chemical interactions to create this type of fire retardant. Most notably, AFFF includes PFAs, but it also includes fluoro- and hydrocarbon surfactants, water, and air. When combined, these chemicals create an expansive foam that cools and suppresses fire at the source.
What is AFFF used for?
Originally developed in the 1980s to fight wildfires, AFFF is now used by most firefighters in the United States to stop the spread and re-ignition of fires. It is also used to contain fire hazards in various industrial settings.