AFFF is an acronym that stands for “aqueous film-forming foam.” It’s a chemical firefighting agent used to put out fires. AFFF is typically stored in plastic tanks and dispensed through a nozzle that shoots out what looks like giant pillars of whipped cream.
Firefighting foams are used primarily for oil or electricity-based fires where water and other extinguishers don’t prove as impactful. In fact, they are widely used worldwide. The global firefighting foam market was worth $756 million in 2021. It is growing at a CAGR of 3.8%.
However, there are some major legal issues surrounding how this chemical gets used and whether or not it causes harm to humans.
Understanding Afff Contamination
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) contamination refers to the presence of AFFF chemicals, primarily per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in the environment. It is commonly used to suppress fires that involve oils and other flammable liquids. While effective at extinguishing fires, AFFF contains PFAS, which are persistent, toxic, and have been linked to various health and environmental concerns.
Here’s a breakdown of AFFF contamination and its implications:
- PFAS in AFFF: AFFF contains PFAS compounds, which have unique properties, including resistance to heat, water, and oil. These properties make PFAS ideal for firefighting foam because they can effectively suppress flammable liquid fires.
- Environmental contamination: When AFFF is used in firefighting or training exercises, it can lead to the release of PFAS into the environment. PFAS can infiltrate soil and water sources, leading to contamination. Contaminated water bodies, like rivers and groundwater, can pose a significant risk to both the environment and public health.
- Health concerns: PFAS are associated with various health risks. Long-term exposure to PFAS has been linked to health problems like cancer, developmental issues, and immune system dysfunction. This makes it essential to limit human exposure to PFAS-contaminated water sources.
- Regulations and mitigation: As awareness of the risks associated with PFAS contamination has grown, governments and regulatory bodies have implemented measures to address this issue. These measures include setting limits on acceptable PFAS levels in water and soil and regulating the use of AFFF containing PFAS.
AFFF consists primarily of two components: fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOs) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). FTOs are synthetic molecules designed for use as surfactants. That means they help other chemicals dissolve into liquids so they can be dispersed evenly throughout whatever medium they’re being mixed into.
8:2 FTOH has been detected as an active ingredient in some AFFF formulations, which are widely used to extinguish hydrocarbon-fuel fires. FTOH contamination is present in many places, including the atmosphere, indoor air, and wastewater treatment plants, to name a few.
PFOA is an industrial chemical whose exact effects on human health aren’t yet fully understood. However, research has shown links between high doses of PFOA exposure and increased risk for certain cancers as well as birth defects. Moreover, PFOA and PFAS have been established as carcinogenic and harmful to humans.
The Legal Landscape of Afff Lawsuits
The legal landscape of AFFF lawsuits is a complicated one. These lawsuits have primarily revolved around contamination of drinking water, environmental damage, and health problems related to PFAS exposure. Many firefighters who are constantly exposed to AFFF have gone on to develop different types of cancers.
Hence, they have started filing lawsuits against several defendants. Some of the defendants are the manufacturers (DuPont), distributors (3M), and retailers (Cleveland Auto Parts). There are also government entities like the US Coast Guard or state fire departments that use AFFF-based extinguishers on ships.
According to TorHoerman Law, as many as 6,000 cases are consolidated into multidistrict litigation. Besides the firefighters, several municipalities have also filed AFFF lawsuits against the defendants. Such cases by municipalities are speculated to be nearing a total settlement of around $10.3 billion.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer after exposure to these film-forming foams, you can also file an AFFF lawsuit. All you need to do is find and hire an attorney who can represent you throughout the legal procedure. If you win this case, you can expect a good settlement amount. However, it can take several years before the final judgment is passed in these lawsuits.
The Impact on Communities
AFFF contamination is a serious problem that has affected communities across the country. According to a ScienceDirect study, even a single incident of fire suppression with AFFF can lead to long-term PFAS discharges. This is because they are forever chemicals, meaning they can accumulate over time.
In addition to these direct impacts on people, AFFF contamination can also have significant environmental consequences. It has been linked to increased fish mortality rates, caused reproductive problems among birds, led to a decline in amphibian populations, etc.
PFOS, along with perfluorobutane sulfonate and PFBS, increase the mortality of juvenile fish, causing bladder inflation defects and toxicity. 3% AFFF formulation contains over 100 PFAS, including around 80% PFOS. This causes an apparent reduction in zebrafish larval growth, one of the closest models for study after humans.
Global Perspectives on Afff Contamination
In the United States, AFFF contamination lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers, distributors, and users of AFFF. Currently, there are more than 15,000 claims that have been filed against DuPont amongst other manufacturers. The big giants have already paid $11.5 billion in damages for PFAS contamination.
The legal landscape in other countries is different. For example, in South Korea, there are no reported cases involving this type of litigation. However, there are some notable similarities among countries with respect to their approach to addressing AFFF contamination. These similarities should be considered by those who may find themselves involved in similar situations elsewhere around the world.
Legal professionals play an important role in responding to environmental issues such as AFFF contamination. They can help affected communities understand their rights and options under local laws while also working with governments on legislative changes.
Balancing Fire Safety and Environmental Concerns
Balancing fire safety and environmental concerns is a delicate task. AFFF is still the best firefighting agent available, but its toxicity has led to lawsuits over its use in training exercises. While these lawsuits may have some merit, they also have the potential to hinder firefighters’ ability to do their jobs effectively.
There are attempts made to find alternatives to AFFF; however, no success has been found yet. There are some alternatives developed, but they haven’t proven to be as effective as AFFF. However, as research and development advances, there are chances that manufacturers may be able to find a balance between the two.
We can see that AFFF contamination is a complex issue with many facets. The latest science suggests that the compounds in these firefighting foams are persistent and bioaccumulative. This means they remain in our environment for long periods and build up in human tissue over time. This has led many countries around the world to ban or restrict their use due to concerns about health impacts and the environment.