AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), or firefighting foam, uses a combination of chemicals to put out dangerous fires at airports and military bases and beyond.
How Does AFFF Foam Work?
AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), or firefighting foam, is a substance used to put out fires. While this makes it an incredibly useful product in taming fires that could harm others, some of the chemicals in the foam have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other serious health conditions for those firefighters who use it regularly.
What is AFFF?
AFFF is sometimes referred to as AFFF foam, even though the last “F” in AFFF stands for foam (similar to how so many of us say “ATM machine” even though the “M” stands for machine already). AFFF is a chemical-based foam that can be used to put out dangerous fires, especially those that are oil-based and would otherwise not go out with regular fire hoses and water.
AFFF is used to put out fires when there is a significant flammable liquid present. As a result, AFFF is frequently used in places like:
- Chemical plants
- Military facilities
- Oil refineries
AFFF is manufactured by companies including Chemours, Chemguard, Dupont, and 3M—some of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world.
What Is AFFF Foam Made of?
AFFF is made of fluorine chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. The specific chemicals contained within AFFF are PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate).
How Does AFFF Foam Work?
AFFF foam works by cutting off the oxygen the fire needs to burn, cooling the fuel, and separating the flame from the fuel surface.
The chemicals in AFFF create the foam’s film-forming property. The film is what allows the foam to spread rapidly over the fuel surface. It also blocks the supply of air and suppresses any flammable vapors, which helps extinguish the fire faster.
Does AFFF Cause Cancer?
Despite its helpfulness in fighting fires, AFFF has been found to cause cancer. AFFF contains two chemicals that are toxic and have been linked to various forms of cancer. These chemicals are the PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) present in AFFF. PFOA and PFOS are part of a group of compounds that are known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances are known as “forever” chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and remain in bodies for years.
PFAS have been shown to weaken a person’s immune system, induce inflammation, affect cell DNA and communication, and cause cell proliferation. They have been shown to cause tumors in animals and have been associated with an elevated risk of cancer in humans.
PFAS have also been linked to the specific following cancers:
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Renal cancer (cancer of the kidneys)
- Testicular cancer
PFAS have been linked to cardiovascular disorders, immune disorders, liver damage, adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes, and thyroid disease as well.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), has classified PFOA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on evidence that it can cause testicular and kidney cancer in humans.
Several states are in the process of filing cases against chemical companies for the negligent production and sale of AFFF that has contaminated their water supplies. Individuals who have been affected are also filing lawsuits against these companies, claiming that exposure to AFFF has caused their cancers and illnesses.
Some key lawsuits and events involving AFFF and PFAS include:
- January 2019 – The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated approximately 500 pending AFFF cases into MDL No. 2873.
- July 2019 – The Attorney General of New York led a coalition of 22 State Attorneys General urging Congress to pass legislation regulating PFAS.
- January 2020 – The Michigan Attorney General filed a lawsuit against 17 defendants, including 3M and DuPont, claiming that the companies caused damages and injury to the State of Michigan through PFAS contamination.
- February 2020 – The National Rural Water Association, a group representing more than 31,000 rural utility systems, filed a lawsuit against manufacturers of PFAS over costs to clean up “forever” chemicals from local groundwater.
- May 2020 – Firefighters filed a class-action lawsuit claiming they were unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals in the AFFF they used to fight fires. Between July 2005 and March 2022, over 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits were filed in federal court. E.I. du Pont de Nemours has been named in more than 6,100 PFAS lawsuits since 2005. Last year, 3M was named in an average of more than three PFAS-related lawsuits a day. In 3M’s 2021 annual report, the company dedicated 15 pages to its PFAS legal exposure.
What to do if You’ve Interacted with AFFF?
The PFAS in AFFF can accumulate and remain in the human body for long periods. Long-term exposure to PFAS can create a toxic buildup in the body. If you’ve had long-term exposure to PFAS, you should seek medical attention and let your medical provider know about your exposure and concerns.
Contact an Experienced Firefighting Foam Lawsuit Lawyer
If you have been diagnosed with a condition that has been associated with PFAS exposure, you should speak to an experienced AFFF lawsuit attorney. Guardian Legal Network can help put you in touch with the right attorney to handle your case and get you the justice you deserve.
We will put you in touch with an experienced firefighting foam lawsuit attorney who will fight to get you the justice you deserve. Contact Guardian Legal Network today.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health,” https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.atsdr.cdc.gov%2Fpfas%2Fhealth-effects.html. Accessed June 9, 2022.
- Alexis M. Temkin, et al., “Application of the Key Characteristics of Carcinogens to Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances,” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/5/1668/htm. Accessed June 10, 2022.
- American Cancer Society. “Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Teflon, and Related Chemicals,” https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/chemicals/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa.html. Accessed June 9, 2022.
- Kyle Steenland, et al., “PFAS and cancer, a scoping review of the epidemiologic evidence,” Environmental Research, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935120315899. Accessed June 10, 2022.
- Suzanne E. Fenton, et al., “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research,” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/etc.4890. Accessed June 10, 2022.