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As described by the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC), aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) is used to smother fires by coating the fuel that causes a fire, preventing oxygen from coming into contact with it. Firefighting foam is classified into two categories, depending on the type of fire they can extinguish. Class A firefighting foams can extinguish combustibles such as paper, wood, municipal waste, and fabric. Class B foams can extinguish fires created by flammable liquids, such as diesel, oil, propane, gasoline, and alcohol. 

Although AFFF is very effective and useful at preventing fires from spreading quickly, they do contain some hazardous materials. Class B AFFF has been used widely over the last 50 years by airports, the U.S. military, industrial facilities, airports, and some municipal fire departments. It also uses polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are more commonly known as simply PFAS. It is the PFAS that allows the substance to completely cover a liquid. Unfortunately, it is also this substance that has contaminated nearby water sources.

AFFF has seen many changes over the years, including:

  • From the early 1960s until 2002, 3M manufactured Legacy PFOS under the brand name of Lightwater. This type of AFFF contained perfluorooctanoic sulfate, also known as PFOS, and PFSAs.
  • From 1970 to 2016, Legacy fluorotelomer AFFF encompassed all other brands of AFFF, other than 3M’s Lightwater and other licensed products. These AFFFs were not manufactured with PFOS of PFOS, but they did contain polyfluorinated precursors, which are known to be degrading in nature.
  • Today, most AFFF manufacturers have transitioned to producing only short-chain fluorotelomer-based fluorosurfactants. These are known as “C6” foams and not only are they considered to be less toxic, but they are also less harmful to the environment.

Below, our firefighting foam lawyers explain more about the most important things that you should know about firefighting foam (AFFF) lawsuits. If you have any specific questions or concerns about your legal rights or legal options, we are more than ready to help. Contact our New York firefighting foam (AFFF) lawyers today for a free, strictly confidential initial consultation.

Table of Contents:

What is Firefighting Foam Made Of?

what is firefighting foam made of

AFFF is an artificial mixture that contains fluorinated and hydrocarbon-based surfactants, which are most commonly used in military and civilian aviation and in the oil industry. People who served on military bases or as firefighters are the groups that are most commonly exposed to the harmful PFOS and PFAS. The differences between these two are as follows:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS) is not an actual ingredient in AFFF. Instead, this is a byproduct that is created when AFFF is manufactured.
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is an artificial and fully fluorinated organic base that is commonly used in the manufacturing of other consumer products.

Substantial levels of PFAS and PFOS are found in all AFFF products. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS chemicals can build up in the environment and in people’s bodies, and they are very harmful to both. Researchers are still evaluating the risk factors that can encourage the growth of cancer cells in the body. The danger a person faces after exposure depends on many factors, including the duration of exposure, the frequency of exposure, and a person’s overall health.

Firefighting Foam Cancer Lawsuits

Currently, the PFAS and PFOS found in AFFF firefighting foam have been linked with a substantially high rate of the development of certain types of cancers. Many firefighting foam studies have shown that the foam and the toxic chemicals within it have the same harmful qualities as carcinogens that impact a cell’s DNA, induce inflammation, weaken the immune system, cause cell proliferation, and interfere with inter-cell communication. When laboratory animals have been exposed to PFAS, they have also developed cancer at higher rates.

Producers, manufacturers, and even the Department of Defense have known about the dangers of firefighting foam, and particularly AFFF, for several years. Since the 1960s, many reports and studies have linked a number of different cancers with the use of AFFF, especially when a person, such as a firefighter, was exposed to it for a long period of time. 

Airport workers and military personnel, as well as communities close to military bases, have developed cancer after exposure to AFFF. This is because the chemicals within the foam are “forever chemicals” meaning they never break down in the environment, or in the human body. The toxins can be absorbed by the skin, consumed in drinking water, and are also found in groundwater. The types of cancers caused by AFFF are as follows:

  • Neuroendocrine cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer

The overwhelming amount of evidence showing that AFFF contains toxic chemicals has led to a movement to ban or limit the use of the substance. In 2021, there were 15 states in America that banned its use. Prior to that, only a handful of states had banned the substance. Other states are also considering banning the use of AFFF. While the United States military helped to develop AFFF, it has announced plans to stop using it by October of 2024. The Federal Aviation Administration has also announced that it will stop using AFFF at thousands of airports across the country. It is for this reason that foam manufacturers have been developing potential AFFF replacements that do not contain toxins for over a decade.

AFFF Exposure Symptoms and Chemicals

Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) is a human health hazard largely because of one of its byproducts: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS). Many studies have been conducted to examine the potential relationship between levels of PFAS in a person’s blood and the harmful health effects it imposes. Indeed, the safety hazards have long been known. In 1974, the United States Air Force (USAF) published a now-unclassified report that cited the toxic effects of AFFF. In 1976, the Naval Research Laboratory published a similar report on the toxic effects of AFFF. In 1991, the United States Army Corp of Engineers recommended the discontinuation of the use of AFFF at Fort Carson in Colorado, citing serious health and safety concerns. It should be noted that not all of the studies involved the same PFAS, the same groups of people, or the same type of exposure. As such, different studies do show a number of different health outcomes. Research involving people has suggested that high levels of certain PFAS may lead to the following:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • A decrease in vaccine response for children
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Liver disease
  • Higher risk of high blood pressure, including preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Lower infant birth weights
  • Fetal damage
  • Child development issues
  • Increased risk of certain types of cancers
  • Asthma
  • Changes in the immune system
  • Thyroid disease

If you believe that you or your family member was harmed due to exposure to aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention and the proper follow-up care. As noted above, the exposure symptoms and adverse health effects associated with AFFF exposure can vary substantially based on the extent of exposure, the duration of exposure, and many other factors. Most often, the initial (immediate) symptoms associated with direct AFFF exposure are skin irritation and/or breathing problems. Though, long-term effects, including cancer and fertility/child development problems, are a huge concern.

Firefighting Foam Chemicals

The two main chemicals in firefighting foam that cause different cancers and other conditions are PFOS and PFOA. However, it is important to note that the damage caused by these chemicals occurs several years after a person is exposed to AFFF. We know that many people have been impacted by decades of use of AFFF. A peer-reviewed study published in the academic journal Environmental International found that there were “elevated serum levels of PFOS and PFHxS in firefighters with past AFFF exposure” and that number of years on the job was directly associated with level of exposure. This is dangerous as these toxins have been linked to serious health issues, including cancer.

Due to the very nature of their job, firefighters are one of the groups at highest risk of developing cancer and other diseases after being exposed to AFFF. For decades, firefighters throughout the country have used AFFF without any prior knowledge of its potentially harmful effects. Carcinogenic PFAS, or the substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue, can be absorbed through the skin, building up in the body and causing serious health issues. Despite wearing protective gear, firefighters still come into contact with the substance, as it coats equipment, which is then handled.

Additionally, military personnel in all service branches are also at an increased risk of developing serious health problems after being exposed to AFFF. The Department of Defense started using AFFFF in the 1970s, to extinguish hydrocarbon fuel fires. Both firefighters and military personnel may be exposed to the toxic chemicals in AFFF both during emergencies and while in training.

AFFF and Firefighting Foam Lawyers

If you have been exposed to AFFF and have developed cancer or any other health problems as a result, you may be able to file a claim against the manufacturers of the product. However, going up against these big companies, and the teams of attorneys who represent them, is not easy. You need sound legal advice when filing your claim, and our attorneys can provide it. Our law firm provides full-service legal representation to victims and their families. When proceeding with litigation, one of our attorneys will focus on the following:

  • Collecting evidence of occupational exposure, including the work environment and work history to prove PFAS exposure; 
  • Gathering medical records showing a cancer diagnosis, medical bills, and laboratory testing reports; 
  • Filing the lawsuit on your behalf; 
  • Negotiating an AFFF settlement with negligent manufacturers; and
  • Proceeding with the legal claim in court if a settlement is not reached. 

At King Law, we are passionate about helping our clients obtain the financial compensation they deserve. We know that when you become sick due to a manufacturing defect, it is not just a legal matter. It negatively impacts every aspect of your life and you need strong and compassionate legal advice. We can help anyone in the country, and we have recently started focusing on chemical and water contamination such as AFFF lawsuit and Camp Lejeune cases.

AFFF Lawsuit Settlement Amounts

No one can determine how much anyone will receive in a lawsuit settlement without first fully reviewing the facts of the case. However, manufacturers have paid out settlement amounts in recent years. In 2017, Chemours and DuPont agreed to pay $670.7 million in an AFFF lawsuit settlement when settling 3,550 injury lawsuits related to PFOA pollution at the Washington Works Plant in West Virginia.

In March of 2020, DuPont was ordered by an Ohio jury to pay $50 million as an AFFF lawsuit settlement to a man named Travis Abbot. As reported by Bloomberg Law, Abbot drank PFOA-contaminated drinking water and as a result, developed testicular cancer. On January 7, 2021, AFFF fire fighting foam lawyers announced a settlement of $17.5 million after the defendants, Tyco Fire Products, LP, ChemDesign Inc., and Chemguard Inc. contaminated drinking water wells in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

There are also different tiers of plaintiffs that have suffered different diseases and conditions after being exposed to AFFF. Settlement amounts will vary widely between top-tier and lower-tier plaintiffs. Those settlement amounts are as follows:

  • Top-tier plaintiffs can expect settlements between $200,000 and $500,000
  • Second-tier plaintiffs can expect settlements between $150,000 and $300,000
  • Third and lower-level tier plaintiffs can expect $75,000 or less

How to File a Claim

Do you believe that you or a loved one was exposed to dangerous levels of toxic firefighting suppressant foam (AFFF)? If so, it is imperative that you take immediate action to protect your health, safety, and legal rights. A toxic tort attorney with the skills and experience to handle AFFF claims can help you determine the best course of action to get justice and financial compensation. Here are the key things to know the steps that you need to take to file an AFFF lawsuit: 

  • Seek Professional Medical Care: Medical needs come first. Ensure that you or your loved one receives all necessary medical care. Health and safety come first. It is crucial that any person who has developed long-term medical complications due to AFFF exposure has access to the medical support that they need. 
  • Consult With an AFFF Firefighter Foam Lawsuit Attorney. If you have been exposed to AFFF, it is critical that you speak to one of our seasoned attorneys at King Law. Our mass tort product liability attorneys have the skills, experience, and knowledge to review your case, answer your questions, and explain exactly what you need to do next to file a claim. 
  • Gather and Organize Employment/Military Records: As part of the claims process, a plaintiff must establish proof of exposure. With very limited exceptions, people have been exposed to AFFF due to their job or their military service. In most cases, exposure is established through employment records and/or military records. 
  • Gather and Organize Medical Records: Plaintiffs in an AFFF lawsuit also need to be prepared to present detailed medical records. You will need to establish that you or your loved one was diagnosed with medical complications—such as cancer— linked to AFFF. If you were exposed to AFFF and you developed any long-term medical complications that have been linked to the dangerous product, you should consult with a lawyer. 
  • Join the AFFF Class Action Lawsuit: There are currently more than 2,700 AFFF lawsuits pending across the country. Due to the large number and similar nature of claims, cases are being consolidated as a class action lawsuit. Our attorneys can help you build a case to join the class action claim. We are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to help you maximize your financial compensation. 

Notably, AFFF firefighter foam suppressant claims are filed against the companies that manufactured and distributed this toxic product. There are a number of different major corporations that have been named as defendants in AFFF lawsuits, including the 3M Company, DuPont, the Chemours Company, Dynax Corporation, National Foam Inc, Corteva, Inc., and Tyco Fire Products.

AFFF Lawsuit Update

A large number of AFFF lawsuits have been filed in recent years. Indeed, from June of 2022 to July of 2022, 115 new AFFF lawsuits have been transferred into a class-action lawsuit, bringing the total number of lawsuits up to 2,700. The majority of plaintiffs in the case have lived on or near military bases that used AFFF fire fighting foam. These lawsuits follow a 2020 report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which highlighted more than 675 sites operated by the Department of Defense (DOD) with known or suspected PFAS contamination due to aqueous film forming foam. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 prohibited any further use of PFAS-containing AFFF during its DOD training exercise. The NDAA FY 2020 also requires the full phase-out of PFAS-containing AFFF by 2024. Here are some key updates on where the AFFF lawsuits currently stand: 

  • Class Action Litigation: A class action lawsuit was filed, initiating multi-district litigation (Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) Products Liability Litigation MDL No. 2873). In January of 2019, a court issued a Case Management Order providing the initial details of the consolidated claim. 
  • First Bellwether Case Selected: In September of 2022, a bellwether trial was selected. According to reporting from The National Law Review, the bellwether case (Stuart (FL) v. 3M, et al.) is set to be the first one heard by the court. Two other bellwether AFFF cases still must be selected.
  • Trial Expected in 2023: The National Law Review reports that the first bellwether AFFF case is scheduled to be heard by a federal court in South Carolina in 2023. Notably, this class action case has been filed by a municipality (Stuart, FL) alleging that its drinking water was contaminated by toxic, harmful PFAS-containing AFFF.

Frequently Asked Questions

Call Our Firefighting Foam Lawyers for Help with Your Claim

At King Law, our Rochester personal injury lawyers have extensive experience with AFFF lawsuits, and we will put it to work for you. If you or your loved one was harmed by aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), we are more than ready to help. Call us now at (585) 270-8882 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and to obtain the sound legal advice you need. From our Rochester law office, we handle firefighting foam (AFFF) lawsuits throughout the region.