Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for decades as a firefighting agent due to its effectiveness in extinguishing fires caused by flammable liquids. However, recent studies have linked AFFF to environmental and health hazards, particularly due to its high levels of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
As a result, several lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers of AFFF, seeking compensation for damages caused by exposure to these chemicals. This article delves into the behind-the-scenes of AFFF lawsuits and highlights six key things you need to know about this complex legal issue.
What is AFFF?
AFFF is a type of firefighting foam widely used by the military, airports, and industries to combat fires caused by flammable liquids such as gasoline, jet fuel, and oil. AFFF creates a foam blanket separating the fuel from oxygen, thereby extinguishing the fire.
The foam contains water, surfactants, and fluorinated compounds, known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are highly persistent and do not break down in the environment, leading to concerns about their potential health and environmental impacts. In addition, studies published by the National Institute of Health have linked PFAS exposure to various health problems, including cancer, immune system dysfunction, and developmental issues.
These concerns have led to a growing number of lawsuits against manufacturers of AFFF seeking compensation for damages caused by exposure to PFAS.
A Brief History of AFFF Lawsuits
In 2006, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a health advisory for PFAS, and the agency established a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
This advisory triggered a wave of litigation against manufacturers of AFFF, alleging that they knew about the health and environmental risks associated with PFAS but failed to warn consumers.
The lawsuits allege that manufacturers of AFFF, including 3M, DuPont, and Chemours, knew about the risks of PFAS exposure but failed to warn consumers adequately. The lawsuit also alleges that their products contaminated water supplies and caused health problems.
Several lawsuits have led to significant AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts, including a high-profile case in which DuPont paid $671 million in 2017 to settle thousands of lawsuits over allegations of dumping PFAS in the waterways of West Virginia, as reported by TorHoerman Law LLC.
Another recent example is the PFAS class action lawsuit settlement involving Kent County residents, in which 3M and Wolverine Worldwide were ordered to pay a total of $54 million.
Who is Affected by AFFF Contamination?
One of the main concerns with AFFF contamination is its impact on drinking water supplies. PFAS, the chemicals found in AFFF, are highly persistent and do not break down in the environment, which means they can accumulate in water supplies over time. It can result in high levels of PFAS in drinking water, which can pose health risks to those who consume it.
Recent data has shown that AFFF contamination is widespread, with PFAS detected in drinking water supplies in many communities across the United States. In fact, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), PFAS has been detected in the drinking water supplies of over 2,800 communities in 50 states.
The report also estimates that millions of Americans may drink water contaminated with PFAS above what some scientists deem safe.
Aside from drinking water, AFFF contamination can also impact those who work with or are exposed to the foam directly, such as firefighters and military personnel. These individuals may be at increased risk of PFAS exposure due to their frequent use of AFFF in their work.
The Legal Process
Many foam contamination lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in federal court, allowing multiple lawsuits with similar claims to be heard. According to the Lawsuit information center, there were around 2,586 cases in the AFFF MDLs in 2022. It can help streamline the legal process and ensure decision-making consistency across different cases.
The first step in the legal process is typically for individuals or communities impacted by AFFF contamination to file a lawsuit against the foam manufacturers. These lawsuits can allege various claims, including negligence, product liability, and failure to warn. The manufacturers of AFFF may also file counterclaims or seek to dismiss the lawsuit.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the discovery process begins, which involves gathering evidence from both sides. It can include document requests, depositions, and other forms of evidence gathering. The goal of discovery is to determine the facts of the case and build a strong legal argument.
Challenges in AFFF Lawsuits
One of the main challenges is proving causation or linking the use of AFFF to the specific health problems or environmental damage experienced by the plaintiff. It can be difficult, as PFAS chemicals are widespread in the environment and can come from sources other than AFFF.
Foam contamination lawsuits can be complex and time-consuming, involving multiple parties and jurisdictions. As a result, it can make it challenging for individuals and communities impacted by AFFF contamination to navigate the legal process and secure a favorable outcome.
Despite these challenges, fire foam contamination litigation has the potential to bring justice to those impacted by AFFF contamination and hold manufacturers accountable for their role in causing harm. With the help of experienced attorneys, individuals, and communities can navigate the legal process and seek the compensation they deserve.
Recent Developments and Future Outlook
AFFF lawsuits are still underway, and attorneys across the United States are accepting cases from those who have suffered from exposure. Recently, the International Association of Firefighters (IAF) filed a complaint against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for requiring the use of PFAS in firefighter protective gear.
The IAF claims that the NFPA’s Ultraviolet Degradation Test for certain protective gear mandates using PFAS, as it is the only chemical that can withstand 40 hours of UV light without degradation. This move by the IAF highlights the ongoing debate over the use of PFAS in firefighting and the potential impact on the health of firefighters and other first responders.
It also underscores the need for continued attention and action in addressing the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals on public health and the environment.
AFFF lawsuits are crucial for individuals and communities impacted by AFFF contamination to seek justice and hold manufacturers accountable for their role in causing harm. From the history of fire foam contamination litigation to the challenges facing plaintiffs, it is clear that these lawsuits are complex and multifaceted.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by AFFF contamination, it is important to seek the help of experienced attorneys who can guide you through the legal process and help you seek the compensation you deserve.
By staying informed about the latest developments in fire foam contamination litigation and taking action when necessary, we can all hold manufacturers accountable and protect our communities from the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals.