While it is now known that the fire-stopping foam used by firefighters AFFF (Aqueous film-forming foam) contains the carcinogenic synthetic chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), exposure to which has caused cancer in firefighters, exposure to this chemical goes further than just the ongoing AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits. In a May 2019 Congressional hearing on the topic, Diane Cotter, the wife of a firefighter who has been diagnosed with career-ending cancer caused by PFAS, exposed “products of deception” used in turnout gear worn by firefighters and the role of manufacturing giant DuPont in this deception.
PFAS in Water-Repellant Turnout Gear
DuPont manufactures the “fabric and coatings” used in turnout gear, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters. After sending unused turnout gear to nuclear physicist Dr. Graham Peaslee of Notre Dame University, the traces of PFAS found in the uniform’s water-repellant coating were “staggering in numbers,” “thousands of times higher” than the then-newly-released maximum residue levels for PFOA in water. DuPont denies the knowledge of the presence of this carcinogen in their products, and claims that they no longer use PFOA in the manufacturing process; however, Dr. Peaslee’s research discovered “textile signature PFAS” that form as a result of oxidization in a matter of “hours to days.” While able to technically deny use of PFOA in the manufacturing of these fabrics, they’ve yet to be held accountable for this omission.
Lack of Attention by Government Agencies
Cotter also discusses the omission of firefighters from a national study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry focusing on the “military and water affected communities,” classifying firefighters as “occupationally exposed” and thus unfit for study focusing on levels in drinking water. The study also excludes children born to mothers who have been occupationally exposed. Cotter writes, “Our immediate needs are a direct result of inaction to pass laws that would require testing of chemicals used for first responders, that would prevent precursors being the loophole giant corporations can use to protect shareholder value at the end users expense.”
Environmental Effects of PFAS
Another concern regarding the toxicity of AFFF and PFAS is the lack of “end-of-life” protocols for turnout gear, degrading in landfills after they’ve been used; “Every single PFAS molecule will remain in the soil and groundwater/waterways after the fabric degrades,” “PFOA will still be forming.” Classified as C-8, “forever” chemicals, PFAS chemicals are comprised of a strong 8-carbon atom chain that breaks down slowly in nature. The negligence in not properly disposing of these materials, they will contaminate natural elements like soil, surface water, or ground water, an action detrimental to the environment and putting countless others at risk.
Current Litigation Surrounding PFAS
Since Cotter’s article’s publication in May 2019, the Michigan Attorney General has filed suit against major chemical manufacturers like DuPont for contamination in drinking water found at 138 locations in Michigan. Claims related to contamination caused by PFAS-based firefighting foam and PPE are still excluded from this case.
Contact Us to Discuss Your PFAS Exposure Claim
Exposure to these toxic chemicals, whether through drinking water or occupationally, will put those exposed at increased risk of developing serious health problems, including cancer. Wilentz is currently representing firefighters and other individuals nationwide that have been occupationally exposed to PFAS. Call Wilentz at 888-416-0685 or email John E. Keefe, Jr. for a free and confidential consultation.
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