From PFAS to Contamination: The Science Behind Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

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Firefighting foam has been used for decades to suppress fires and protect lives, but it’s now at the center of a growing controversy. Chemicals found in some types of firefighting foam, particularly PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), have been linked to environmental and health concerns.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designated perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the most thoroughly studied PFAS, as a probable human carcinogen in 2017, according to the National Cancer Institute. This categorization was made in light of epidemiological data linking kidney and testicular malignancies in those with high PFOA exposure. 

This led to a wave of lawsuits against manufacturers of these foams. This article will explore the science behind firefighting foam lawsuits, including the impact of PFAS on the environment and human health.

PFAS and Their Environmental Impact

PFAS chemicals have been used in firefighting foam due to their unique properties, which make them effective at extinguishing fires involving flammable liquids. These compounds, however, do not degrade quickly and, when discharged into the environment, can build up in soil, water, and animals. Because they do not disintegrate naturally over time, PFAS are often known as “forever chemicals.”

When firefighting foam is used, it can contaminate the soil and groundwater near the site of the fire. This contamination can also spread to surrounding areas through stormwater runoff or seepage into nearby bodies of water. Once PFAS chemicals are in the environment, they can persist for decades, affecting wildlife and potentially endangering human health.

PFAS have been utilized in a number of consumer and commercial items, including nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing and accessories, and food packaging, in addition to firefighting foam. As a result, these substances have been found in the world’s air, water, and soil. Some research has connected PFAS exposure to negative health impacts such as a higher risk of cancer, thyroid diseases, and developmental difficulties in children.

Due to the persistence of PFAS and its potential health risks, many countries have taken action to regulate or ban the use of these chemicals. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a lifetime health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water and has proposed new regulations to limit their use and release into the environment. 

Health Risks and Lawsuits

Due to the environmental and health risks associated with firefighting foam, a growing number of lawsuits have been filed against foam manufacturers. These lawsuits allege that the companies knew about the risks associated with PFAS and failed to warn the public adequately. The lawsuits seek damages to cover the costs of contamination cleanup and compensation for those affected by PFAS exposure.

In response to the growing number of people filing a firefighting foam lawsuit, law firms specializing in environmental and toxic tort litigation actively represent clients affected by PFAS exposure. Law firms like TorHoerman Law focus on complex litigation cases, including environmental and toxic torts, mass torts, and personal injury lawsuits.

According to AboutLawsuits.com, in a recent development concerning these lawsuits, a federal judge has given the final approval for a $54 million settlement to resolve class action claims against Wolverine World Wide, a footwear manufacturing company in Michigan. The claims were related to dumping toxic PFAS chemicals near one of their facilities.

Concerns and Actions Regarding PFAS

As the lawsuits continue to mount, there is growing concerned about the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS. Some fire departments have begun to switch to alternative foams that do not contain PFAS, while others are implementing measures to reduce the amount of foam used in training exercises. Regulations around the use and disposal of firefighting foam are also being revisited in light of environmental and health concerns.

Politicians and environmental organizations have chastised the Department of Defense for using PFAS-containing firefighting foam for years. According to an item in the March 2023 issue of the Idaho Capital Sun, the Department of Defense has decided to stop purchasing PFAS-containing firefighting foam in the coming months and totally phase it out by 2024.

Conclusion

The use of firefighting foam containing PFAS has led to legal and environmental concerns. The persistence of PFAS in the environment has caused contamination of soil, water, and wildlife, and there are potential health risks associated with PFAS exposure, including cancer. 

In response, fire departments are switching to alternative foams that do not contain PFAS, and regulations are being reviewed to reduce environmental damage. Later this year, the Department of Defense will stop buying PFAS-containing firefighting foam, and it will be totally phased out by the next year. The decision shows how people are becoming more aware of and concerned about the usage of these substances.

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