Firefighting has always been a heroic profession, with firefighters valiantly combating blazes to protect lives and property. However, their tools to suppress fires can have unintended consequences, as seen with Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF).

AFFF, widely used by firefighters and the military for decades, contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are known to have adverse effects on the environment and health. This article explores the journey from AFFF’s role in fire suppression to the legal battles it has ignited.

Understanding AFFF

AFFF emerged in the mid-20th century as a groundbreaking innovation in fire suppression technology. Its ability to rapidly extinguish flammable liquid fires made it indispensable for firefighting operations, particularly in military and industrial settings. The key component of AFFF is PFAS, which creates a thin film on the surface of the fire, smothering it and preventing reignition.

However, the chemical composition of PFAS raises serious environmental and health concerns. PFAS are highly persistent in the environment, earning them the notorious label of “forever chemicals.” They accumulate in soil, water, and wildlife, posing long-term risks to ecosystems and human health.

Despite their effectiveness in fire suppression, the widespread use of AFFF has led to environmental contamination. For instance, the PFAS from AFFF can leach into groundwater and other drinking water sources. This is especially true near military bases, airports, and industrial facilities.

Commercial manufacturers do not release information on PFAS quantity in AFFF. However, a study from ScienceDirect revealed the total PFAS concentration to be around 5%, including long- and short-chain PFAAs and their derivatives.

The Emergence of AFFF Lawsuits

The environmental and health impacts of PFAS contamination started becoming increasingly apparent. Hence, affected communities and advocacy groups began demanding accountability from manufacturers of AFFF and the entities responsible for its use. This led to a surge in AFFF lawsuits across the United States.

According to TorHoerman Law, the plaintiffs seek compensation for their damages. AFFF has been linked to numerous forms of cancer. If someone is diagnosed with cancer after AFFF exposure, it means financial, health, and emotional damage, alongside other sufferings. The plaintiffs want AFFF manufacturers to pay them for these damages.

One of the largest groups affected by AFFF contamination is military personnel and their families living on or near military bases. In these places, AFFF was routinely used in firefighting training exercises. These individuals have been exposed to elevated levels of PFAS, leading to health concerns ranging from cancer to reproductive issues.

Lawsuits filed by veterans and civilians alike have brought national attention to the need for comprehensive regulation and remediation efforts. As stated in a Forbes article, there were 6,000 active cases in October 2023 linked to the AFFF firefighting foam lawsuit.

In fact, the recent AFFF lawsuit update is about a military general filing a lawsuit against 28 manufacturers. Connecticut’s attorney general has filed this lawsuit. He alleges that manufacturers have contaminated the state’s water and natural sources.

Legal Battles and Industry Response

The legal landscape surrounding AFFF lawsuits is multifaceted, involving complex liability, jurisdiction, and scientific evidence issues. Plaintiffs often face significant challenges in proving causation and establishing the extent of damages attributable to AFFF contamination. Moreover, defendants, including AFFF manufacturers and government agencies, vigorously defend themselves against allegations of negligence and misconduct.

Thanks to various studies linking AFFF to cancers, plaintiffs now expect the judgment to be in their favor. For instance, various tests have revealed the impact of AFFF on kidney cells. The results of one such test have been published in the JOEM Journal. The study shows that when AFFF is added to kidney cells at 10x lower concentration than in AFFF, it induces cellular toxicity. Moreover, it also alters cellular proliferation.

In response to mounting litigation and public pressure, some AFFF manufacturers have taken steps to address the environmental impact of their products. This includes investing in research and development of PFAS-free firefighting foams and participating in voluntary cleanup initiatives. However, critics argue that these efforts fall short of addressing the full scope of the problem. Hence, they advocate for stricter regulations on PFAS use and disposal.

The Role of Regulation and Public Policy

The regulation of PFAS compounds, including those found in AFFF, remains a contentious issue. It is at the intersection of public health, environmental protection, and industry interests. While some states have implemented restrictions on PFAS use, no federal regulatory framework currently addresses PFAS as a class of chemicals.

Efforts to regulate PFAS at the federal level have been met with resistance from industry stakeholders and political challenges. The complex chemistry and widespread use of PFAS present unique regulatory hurdles. Thus, it requires comprehensive risk assessments and coordinated action at the national and international levels.

Many regulations have been put in place to minimize the use of PFAS-based AFFF. One such regulation is Section 322 of the Defense Acquisition Regulations System. It prohibits the Department of Defense from procuring fluorinated AFFF containing more than one part per billion of PFAS substances after October 1, 2023. However, some exemptions can apply, in which case the PFAS concentration can be increased.

Looking Towards a Sustainable Future

As AFFF lawsuits continue to unfold in courts nationwide, the need for sustainable alternatives to PFAS-based firefighting foams becomes increasingly urgent. Innovations in green chemistry and fire suppression technology offer promising avenues for reducing reliance on harmful chemicals while maintaining safety practices. However, the challenge lies in maintaining effectiveness in suppressing fires.

In addition to technological advancements, fostering greater transparency and accountability within the firefighting and chemical industries is essential. This can help prevent future environmental disasters. This includes robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms, public access to information on chemical hazards, and corporate responsibility for mitigating environmental impacts.

To conclude, the journey from fire suppression to legal battles over AFFF contamination underscores the complex interplay between innovation, regulation, and environmental stewardship. While AFFF has undoubtedly saved lives and property from the ravages of fire, its pollution and health risks legacy cannot be ignored. By confronting the challenges posed by PFAS contamination head-on, we can strive to create a safer and more sustainable future for fire suppression.


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