New Breakthrough in AFFF Litigation: The Addition of Two New Diseases

Since June 2023, a slew of legal actions have cropped up against Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). This firefighting foam is frequently used by the U.S. Navy and other military branches. 

The main focus of these lawsuits is the health risks associated with AFFF exposure, including the risk of developing certain cancers. Firefighters use AFFF to extinguish major fires and save lives, yet they face significant risks from its toxic components.

Manufacturers of AFFF are increasingly criticized for distributing carcinogenic firefighting foams without adequately warning the public. A growing number of firefighters—both military and civilian—are bringing legal action against AFFF producers such as 3M and DuPont. The number of AFFF lawsuits is expected to increase as more health issues linked to AFFF exposure are recognized.

AFFF Lawsuit and the U.S. Navy

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) has been widely utilized by the U.S. Navy and other armed services for a considerable amount of time. Its effectiveness in quenching petroleum fires has established this firefighting foam as essential in both training and actual fire incidents. 

The U.S. Department of Defense plans to cease buying PFAS firefighting foams this year. They aim to completely phase them out by 2024. In response, the Pentagon is seeking safer alternatives to AFFF due to its use in extinguishing fuel fires. This shift also reflects the mounting cleanup costs at contaminated military sites and the broader impact on nearby communities​. 

Despite AFFF phase-out efforts, it’s still used on Navy ships, submarines, and in airplane hangar sprinklers during emergencies. Congress requires the Defense Department to report any accidental AFFF spills and mandates CDC assessments of its human health impacts. Evaluations reveal that residents near military bases, such as Airway Heights, Washington, have higher PFAS blood levels than the national average. 

Lately, the AFFF lawsuit has amassed more than 6,000 cases. This includes numerous Navy personnel who were exposed to AFFF for years before suffering from severe illnesses. The lawsuit is still pending, and the plaintiffs are being helped by new information. TruLaw highlights the need for more knowledge and stricter laws on harmful chemicals used in firefighting foams. 

Two Major Cancers To Be Added to the AFFF Litigation: Thyroid and Liver Cancer

As of March 20, 2024, the plaintiffs’ steering committee in the AFFF lawsuit by Navy personnel is focusing on thyroid and liver cancer. The District Court for South Carolina has begun preparations to include these cancer types in its bellwether trials. This involves organizing “Science Day,” where both parties present scientific evidence regarding the connection between AFFF exposure and these cancers. It helps the court understand the issues before proceeding to trial​.

The bellwether trial procedure did not previously include these requirements. In the AFFF litigation, initial claims linked exposure to thyroid disorders, ulcerative colitis, kidney, and testicular cancers. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs now argue that liver and thyroid cancer should also be considered in their new legal appeal.

What Does Research Say? 

  • Liver cancer: Studies suggest a clear connection between AFFF exposure and liver cancer. Since the chemicals in AFFF do not naturally decompose, they can build up in the liver. Over time, this results in the growth of malignant tumors. The liver, crucial in detoxification, is highly susceptible to damage during the body’s elimination of such toxins.

The specific connection between PFAS exposure and angiosarcoma, particularly in the liver, has been documented in various research. For instance, PFAS compounds accumulate in the liver, potentially causing tumors like angiosarcoma through various pathological changes. This is largely due to the ability of PFAS to interfere with cellular mechanisms and promote oncogenic pathways.

  • Thyroid cancer: Another condition where exposure to AFFF has been connected is thyroid cancer. The thyroid gland is responsible for controlling the body’s metabolism, and it can be negatively impacted by PFAS pollution. Research indicates that this exposure raises the risk of thyroid cancer by a whopping 56%. 

The disruptive impact of PFAS on thyroid hormone leads to conditions such as Hashimoto’s disease, hypothyroidism, and Graves’ disease. PFAS chemicals can inhibit essential enzymes in the thyroid, affecting hormone synthesis and leading to thyroid dysfunction. One such enzyme is thyroperoxidase, which produces thyroid hormone. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the AFFF lawsuit about?

The AFFF lawsuit involves legal actions from civilians and firefighters exposed to AFFF containing harmful PFAS chemicals. This litigation has been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) to manage numerous individual cases efficiently. These cases allege that manufacturers knew about PFAS dangers but failed to warn the public adequately.

2. Do AFFF lawsuit plaintiffs exclusively consist of firefighters?

Although firefighters are not the only ones who are suing, they are frequently referred to as the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Several civilians and members of the armed forces who were exposed to these substances are also plaintiffs.

3. How can Navy personnel prove exposure to AFFF firefighting foam in court?

Service records, medical documentation of related health issues, and witness testimony are required to establish AFFF exposure in a lawsuit. A firefighting foam lawyer helps navigate toxic tort cases, ensuring manufacturers are accountable for AFFF exposure harm.

4. How are AFFF manufacturers being held accountable in the lawsuit?

Lawsuits hold AFFF manufacturers accountable for not warning about health risks linked to PFAS chemicals in their foams. Manufacturers like 3M and DuPont face accusations of environmental and personal injury damages due to PFAS contamination. Settlements and legal judgments in these cases could compel manufacturers to pay significant financial compensation to victims.

Wrapping up, the significant development in the AFFF lawsuit is the addition of thyroid and liver cancer allegations against manufacturers. People who may have been exposed to AFFF, especially firefighters, should seek the proper legal and medical counsel as the litigation progresses.

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