Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF), a firefighting agent widely used to combat flammable liquid fires, has become a subject of growing concern due to its environmental and health impacts.
AFFF contains hazardous chemicals, including Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), which have been linked to adverse health effects and significant environmental contamination.
Communities and ecosystems near industrial sites, military bases, and airports have been affected by the widespread use of AFFF, raising serious questions about accountability and compensation for those affected.
In this article, we delve into the complex issue of AFFF and the legal battles surrounding its use.
Overview of AFFF and Its Use in Firefighting
AFFF is a fire suppressant that is used by firefighters around the world. It is a water-based foam that contains a surfactant, which is a substance that lowers the surface tension of water. This allows the foam to spread over the surface of a flammable liquid and form a film that smothers the fire.
AFFF is effective at extinguishing fires involving flammable liquids, such as gasoline and jet fuel. It is also used to extinguish fires in buildings where people are trapped, such as high-rise buildings and subway tunnels.
The Environmental and Health Concerns Associated With AFFF Chemicals
AFFF contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are known to be persistent in the environment, meaning they do not break down easily. They can also bioaccumulate, meaning they build up in the bodies of animals and humans.
PFAS have been linked to several health problems, including cancer, kidney disease, and reproductive problems. They have also been found to contaminate drinking water, soil, and air.
In the context of AFFF, the use of PFAS in these foams has raised concerns about the potential for environmental contamination and human health impacts. When AFFF is used to extinguish a fire, it can run off into soil and water, where it can persist for many years.
PFAS have also been found in the blood of firefighters who have been exposed to AFFF, suggesting that they can be absorbed into the body through inhalation or skin contact.
There is still much that is unknown about the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure. However, the potential risks are serious enough that some countries, such as the United States, have begun to phase out the use of AFFF.
Colorado Newsline reports that after facing years of criticism from U.S. lawmakers and environmental advocates, the Department of Defense has finally taken steps to address the issue of PFAS-containing firefighting foam.
They will cease purchasing this foam later this year and aim to completely phase it out by 2024. However, the replacement for Aqueous Film Forming Foam is still undecided, causing frustration among advocates who are concerned about the prolonged use of a product containing “forever chemicals.”
Industries and Sites Where AFFF Contamination Is Prevalent
AFFF contamination is prevalent in several industries and sites, including:
- Fire training facilities: AFFF is often used in fire training facilities to simulate real-world fires. This can lead to AFFF contamination in the soil and groundwater around these facilities.
- Military bases: AFFF is used by the military to extinguish fires on ships, aircraft, and other military installations. This can lead to AFFF contamination in the soil and groundwater around these bases.
- Airports: AFFF is used by airports to extinguish fires on airplanes and other aircraft. This can lead to AFFF contamination in the soil and groundwater around these airports.
- Industrial facilities: AFFF is used by industrial facilities to extinguish fires involving flammable liquids. This can lead to AFFF contamination in the soil and groundwater around these facilities.
The extent of AFFF contamination in these industries and sites varies, but it is a serious problem that can have a significant impact on human health and the environment.
In addition to the industries and sites listed above, AFFF contamination has also been found in residential areas near airports and military bases. This is because AFFF can travel long distances in the air and water, and it can be deposited in soil and groundwater.
Legal Grounds for Filing AFFF-Related Lawsuits
People who have been injured by AFFF exposure may file personal injury lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers. These lawsuits may allege that the manufacturers were negligent in failing to warn about the health risks of AFFF, or that they intentionally concealed the risks.
TruLaw notes that other than personal injury, people who have been exposed to AFFF in the environment, such as near military bases or airports, may also be able to file environmental lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers.
The AFFF lawsuit may allege that the manufacturers have contaminated the environment with AFFF and that this contamination has caused them to suffer personal injuries or property damage.
To succeed in the lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that they were exposed to AFFF and that the exposure caused their injuries or property damage.
Responsible Parties in the Lawsuit
The responsible parties for the health risks of AFFF exposure are the companies that manufacture AFFF. These companies include 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Chemguard, Tyco Fire Products, National Foam, Inc., Dynax Corporation, and others.
These companies have been accused of failing to warn firefighters and the public about the health risks of AFFF, and of downplaying the risks in their marketing materials. They have also been accused of suppressing research that showed the health risks of AFFF.
Recently, according to Reuters, Kidde-Fenwal Inc, specializing in fire control systems, filed for bankruptcy due to the mounting lawsuits alleging water source contamination by “forever chemicals” in its firefighting foam products at U.S. airports and military bases.
Kidde-Fenwal has been named in over 4,400 lawsuits by local governments, companies, and individuals, claiming that its AFFF products contaminated drinking water and soil with “forever chemicals.”
Alongside 3M Co (MMM.N) and DuPont de Nemours Inc (DD.N), Kidde-Fenwal was set to undergo a bellwether trial in June in a South Carolina federal court.
The lawsuits against these companies are still ongoing, and it is not yet clear how much compensation, if any, will be awarded to the plaintiffs. However, the lawsuits are raising awareness of the health risks of AFFF and putting pressure on the companies to take responsibility for their actions.
Successful PFAS-Related Lawsuits
According to Time, in early June, this year, DuPont, Corteva, and Chemours made progress in their civil litigation by reaching a $1.185 billion settlement with 300 local water systems. These water systems had sued the companies to recover the costs incurred for cleaning and filtering their wells and aquifers.
Shortly after, 3M reached an even larger settlement of $10.3 billion with 300 different water providers. The majority of the plaintiffs in both settlements are part of multidistrict litigation (MDL), where similar damage claims against identical defendants are consolidated for trial.
These lawsuits have had a significant impact on accountability and compensation for people who have been injured by AFFF exposure. They have shown that AFFF manufacturers can be held liable for the health problems that their products cause.
They have also helped to raise awareness of the health risks of AFFF exposure and have helped to pave the way for other lawsuits.
How Affected Individuals Can Seek Compensation
Individuals and communities affected by AFFF contamination can seek compensation through various legal avenues. First, they can consult with experienced attorneys specializing in environmental and toxic tort law to understand their rights and options.
These legal experts can help identify liable parties, gather evidence, and build a strong compensation case. Affected individuals can join class-action or multidistrict litigation suits against AFFF manufacturers and users.
Additionally, some states and municipalities have initiated lawsuits seeking damages for environmental cleanup and public health costs. By participating in these legal actions, affected parties can collectively seek justice and hold responsible parties accountable for the harm caused by AFFF contamination.
The fight for accountability in AFFF lawsuits has shed light on the far-reaching consequences of using firefighting foam containing harmful PFAS chemicals.
The legal battles surrounding AFFF demonstrate the power of collective action and the importance of holding those responsible accountable for their actions. As more victims step forward, seeking compensation for their losses, it becomes clear that the fight for justice is far from over.
Together, we can push for change, seek redress, and ensure that future generations are protected from the devastating effects of AFFF contamination.