The Legal Battle Against Aqueous Film-Forming Foam: A Comprehensive Overview
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has long been hailed as a critical firefighting tool due to its effectiveness in suppressing flammable liquid fires. However, in recent years, this seemingly indispensable solution has become the focus of legal battles, environmental concerns, and growing public awareness.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of the legal battle against AFFF, shedding light on the issues, challenges, and consequences associated with its use.
Understanding Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF)
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam, often referred to as AFFF, serves as a firefighting agent specifically designed to swiftly quell fires fueled by flammable liquids. Its mechanism of action involves the formation of a thin film that blankets the liquid’s surface. This film cuts off the fire’s access to oxygen and prevents any potential reignition.
Furthermore, AFFF contains fluorosurfactants, which are instrumental in its ability to effectively suppress and control fires. It is particularly effective in extinguishing fires fueled by class B hydrocarbon fuels, which include gasoline, petroleum, benzene, kerosene, and oil. Its efficiency is especially notable when dealing with these fuels that are immiscible with water.
This type of firefighting foam is primarily employed in the context of large-scale fires in industries where significant fire risks exist.
The Controversy: AFFF and Environmental Impact
While AFFF plays an essential role in fire suppression, it contains a group of chemicals referred to as per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These PFAS substances are characterized by their significant environmental persistence.
TruLaw notes that PFAS has been associated with a spectrum of health and environmental challenges. For instance, an analysis exploring the link between PFAS exposure and thyroid cancer risk found a 56% increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses. This increase was observed for each doubling of linear PFOS intensity across the entire study population.
Furthermore, an ecological study examining the relationship between PFAS exposure and cancer identified higher rates of testicular cancer. This information was reported by the National Library of Medicine.
As a result, the use of AFFF has raised significant environmental concerns, especially when it leaches into groundwater and contaminates drinking water sources.
Legal Battles Emerge
As the environmental and health risks associated with PFAS have become more apparent, legal actions against AFFF manufacturers and users have multiplied. Here are some key aspects of the legal battle against Aqueous Film-Forming Foam:
Individuals who have suffered health issues due to PFAS exposure have launched legal proceedings against AFFF manufacturers. A notable proportion of these AFFF lawsuits were brought by firefighters and their families.
As reported in the Nature Journal, an alarming 4% of surveyed firefighters were diagnosed with cancer. What’s particularly concerning is that age-specific cancer rates were found to be 323% higher in this population.
These alarming statistics emphasize the severity of the situation, with cancer being responsible for more than 74% of line-of-duty deaths in 2022.
Notably, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently reclassified firefighting as a Group 1 carcinogen. This reclassification strengthens the legal foundation for these actions, seeking compensation for medical expenses, emotional distress, and various other damages.
Environmental Contamination Claims
Recently released data from the EPA has exposed nearly 900 incidents of spills or the use of firefighting foam throughout the United States. This data also includes information on the extent of contamination in local waterways resulting from these incidents.
However, it remains uncertain whether the spills or use of AFFF containing PFAS have led to the contamination of nearby community water supplies.
These recently unveiled findings, documented by the National Response Center, are now accessible on the EPA’s website. They disclose that since 1990, there have been precisely 897 reported spills or instances of using AFFF containing PFAS.
While several of these incidents occurred at the Department of Defense and federal facilities, others occurred at commercial harbors and civilian firefighting events.
In response to this environmental contamination, communities impacted by AFFF-related issues have taken legal action. They aim to hold those responsible accountable for both the cleanup and the environmental damage incurred.
The U.S. military, a major user of AFFF, is currently contending with a series of lawsuits related to PFAS contamination on military bases. These legal cases frequently involve intricate jurisdictional complexities and the need for extensive environmental remediation.
For instance, there is the Fort Wainwright toxic exposure lawsuit, where veterans and their families have filed a legal action against the U.S. government. They claim that the government acted negligently in the use and disposal of AFFF, resulting in PFAS chemical contamination at the Alaska military base. This alleged negligence has, in turn, led to severe health problems, including cancer, among those who served at the base.
Challenges and Complexities
The legal battle against AFFF is not without its challenges and complexities. Proving causation and quantifying damages related to long-term health effects and environmental contamination can be difficult. Moreover, there is a complex interplay of federal and state laws, as well as regulatory guidance.
The Path Forward
The legal battle against Aqueous Film-Forming Foam is ongoing. Simultaneously, there is a growing awareness of the potential health and environmental risks associated with PFAS-containing substances. In response, companies are reformulating firefighting foams to reduce or eliminate PFAS content, and regulations are evolving to better manage these chemicals.
The legal battle against Aqueous Film-Forming Foam highlights the challenges of balancing the need for effective firefighting tools. Simultaneously, it underscores the imperative to protect human health and the environment.
As lawsuits continue to emerge and regulatory changes evolve, the legacy of AFFF use is being shaped. This legacy is sure to leave a lasting impact on how we approach fire suppression and its consequences. It’s a complex issue that demands attention, not only from the legal community but also from policymakers, scientists, and society as a whole.