AFFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam) is a fire suppression substance used in the fighting of fires. This material contains Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals. These chemicals are also known as forever chemicals, since they don’t break down over time, remaining both in the environment and inside human blood indefinitely. In addition to not breaking down, PFAS are also a known carcinogen.

As a result of exposure to the toxic chemicals within AFFF, many victims have developed numerous health complications, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer. This is an especially large problem for firefighters, who may have experienced prolonged exposure to AFFF over the course of their duties.

To receive some financial compensation and justice, victims of prolonged AFFF exposure have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of AFFF materials. The plaintiffs are alleging that the manufacturers knew of the dangers of their products and continued to sell them anyway, without disclosing the risks. If you or a loved one developed significant health complications as a result of exposure to AFFF or PFAS chemicals, you may be eligible for a lawsuit.

AFFF Lawsuit – Latest News

Is there an AFFF lawsuit?

Yes, there are currently thousands of pending lawsuits related to AFFF. As of June 2023, there are more than 3,000 AFFF plaintiffs in a Multi-District Litigation, centered in the United States Federal Court in the District of South Carolina. More cases continue to join this MDL each month, as the MDL moves towards a conclusion. Lawyers for the plaintiffs hope that this MDL will ultimately lead to a global firefighting foam settlement.

These AFFF lawsuits started to appear more than two years ago. They began after many people, often firefighters, began developing health complications after prolonged exposure to AFFF. Inside this firefighting foam are materials called poly-fluoroalkyl, also known as PFAS. PFAS are chemical compounds that contain both flourine and carbon. They’re resistant to heat and excel at putting out fires involving accelerants, such as oils, paint or gas.

The problem with PFAS is that they don’t biodegrade and they can bind to proteins within humans and animals exposed to them. This allows them to remain in the body for long periods of time, increasing the person’s risk of developing cancer and other health complications. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report confirming that exposure to PFAS can cause kidney and testicular cancer, among other potential health complications. Not long after that, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also concluded that regular exposure to PFAS increases the risk of developing kidney, testicular, and prostate cancer.

Now, there are lawsuits against the manufacturers of firefighting foam that contains PFAS. These lawsuits are alleging that major companies, such as 3M and DuPont, sold AFFF products despite knowing the health risks. As the number of cases continued to grow, the Jurisdiction on Multi-District Litigation (JMDL) decided to consolidated all these related cases into one MDL. This allowed for easier sharing of information among plaintiffs, among other benefits.

By June of 2022, there were over 2500 lawsuits within the class action MDL. Many of these lawsuits are by individuals who claim that exposure to firefighting foam caused them to develop dancer. Other lawsuits are on behalf of municipalities, who are alleging that AFFF contaminated a local water supply. In the following months, more cases were added to the MDL, some of which were by plaintiffs who lived on military bases where the firefighting foam was used.

The MDL continues to increase in size to this day. A year later, in June of 2023, there were over 4,700 lawsuits within the MDL. However, it’s expected that many of these cases will soon be dismissed, as a global settlement was reached regarding the water contamination cases. The remaining cases will continue to work their way through the legal process, with a bellwether case expected to start in July 2023. This bellwether case was supposed to start in June 2023 but the judge granted a postponement while both sides continue to work towards a settlement.

It remains to be seen if the defendants and plaintiffs will be able to reach a settlement. Should they fail to do so, the bellwether case will continue, allowing both sides to gather more information about how a jury will react to the evidence in these cases. If the two sides are unable to reach a settlement before the bellwether case begins, they may be able to do so with more information once that trial wraps up.

AFFF linked to health complications, including cancer

There is now ample evidence that exposure to AFFF firefighting foam could be arisk for developing serious health problems. AFFF firefighting foam has been in use for decades, meaning many people could have experienced long-term exposure and increased their risk for significant health complications. AFFF contains PFAS, which have been labeled as a public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH).

Some of the health risks associated with exposure to firefighting foam include:

  • An increased chance of developing cancer
  • Negative impacts on the immune system
  • Damage to the liver
  • Higher cholesterol
  • An increased risk of asthma
  • An increased risk of thyroid disease
  • Issues with fetal development
  • A disruption of hormonal imbalance

While prolonged exposure increases a person’s risk of developing negative health complications, some studies suggest that even low-level exposure can have significant consequences. Below are a just a few studies that explore the impact of AFFF firefighting foam and exposure to the PFAS inside it:

Use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams and Knowledge of Perfluorinated Compounds among Florida Firefighters

One study aimed to better understand how frequently fire departments use AFFF suppression methods and how aware these departments are of potential health effects. To do this, the researchers conducted a survey, which included 131 firefighters in Florida, representing 67 Florida fire departments. Of those surveyed, over 80% said that their fire departments used AFFF as a part of fire suppression measures and a third of respondents said their departments used AFFF on two to five calls per year.

After reviewing all of the data, the researchers concluded that “A large proportion of participating Florida fire departments currently use AFFF during fire suppression activities.” In addition, the study states that respondents indicated low awareness of AFFF health effects, while the departments that did use AFFF were also more likely to have no health or safety officers. The study concludes by saying, “There is an urgent need to conduct national surveillance for AFFF use across U.S. fire departments” so that we can better understand acute or chronic health effects experienced by AFFF exposure.

Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances in a cohort of women firefighters and office workers in San Francisco

Another study explored how exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) impacted women, as many studies focus exclusively on men. This study recruited women from San Francisco, consisting of both firefighters and office workers. Once recruited into the study, the researchers asked participants about their health information and potential exposure to PFAS from their jobs or consumer product use. In the end, the researchers had 86 firefighters and 84 office workers to study.

The study found that while both groups had some exposure to different PFAS compounds, certain PFAS were higher in firefighters. In addition, the researchers found that the role of the firefighter had an impact on the level of PFAS in their blood, with firefighters and officers having higher levels than drivers. This suggests that those closest to the fire, and therefore the fire-suppressing materials, are at a greater risk for inhaling these substances. Lastly, the study also states that “firefighters who reported using firefighting foam in the past year had higher levels of several PFAS than those who reported not using firefighting foams in the past year.”

PFAS Exposure and Risk of Cancer

Finally, the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG), a part of the National Cancer Institute, aimed to learn more about the specific cancers associated with PFAS exposure through a number of different studies. In the first study, the DCEG conducted a nested case-control study to look at the risk of renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. The findings of this study indicated an increased risk of developing kidney cancer based on increasing PFOA exposure. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is the most well-studied form PFAS compound.

Several other studies are still ongoing from the DCEG. One study is looking at PFAS exposure through water contamination on military bases, as they have a long history of using firefighting foams. The DCEG is also looking at the relationship between PFAS exposure and ovarian cancer, along with prostate cancer.

Projected AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts

The most likely outcome for AFFF lawsuits is a global, mass-tort settlement. When this settlement arrives, it will be very complicated, with the defendants agreeing to pay a large sum into a fun, that then gets distributed based on a formula. The size of the settlement amount and how it will get distributed to the plaintiffs is still yet to be determined. However, it will likely be based on a points-system, where plaintiffs with more serious conditions receiving higher settlement amounts.

For example, those plaintiffs with long-term exposure and with the most significant diagnoses will likely receive the largest settlements. After that comes plaintiffs with long term exposure but who don’t have as serious of medical conditions. Finally, plaintiffs with less evidence of exposure or less serious conditions will receive the lowest settlement amounts.

At this point, it’s still unclear what the final settlement amount will be. Based on other global settlements in similar cases, those with the most severe conditions may receive settlements of around $200,000 to $500,000, while those in lower settlements could get around $75,000 to $300,000. However, this is just speculation and will ultimately depend on the specifics of each case and how much the defendants end up paying into the settlement fund.

Do you qualify for an AFFF lawsuit?

To qualify for an AFFF lawsuit, you typically need to meet two requirements. First, you must have been exposed to PFAS. Your lawyer will likely want you to present evidence that you were exposed to PFAS over a prolonged period of time, such as working as a firefighter or in a factory. Next, you will need to show that you developed cancer after being exposed to PFAS. This includes a diagnosis of some for of cancer, such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer, or prostate cancer.

If you think that you might meet those requirements, consider consulting with an AFFF lawyer. They will review the specifics of your case and help you determine if you’re eligible for a lawsuit. Your lawyer may ask you to provide some documentation, such as proof of working in a job that exposed you to PFAS or medical records about your diagnosis.

AFFF Timeline: 

January 2021: 

Various individual lawsuits filed in South Carolina claiming cancer due to AFFF exposure. 

February 2021: 

Additional lawsuits filed by a former U.S. Navy engineer and a firefighter, alleging cancer from AFFF exposure. 

March 2021: 

Multiple claims filed, including allegations of testicular and prostate cancer due to AFFF. 

April 2021: 

Lawsuits filed by workers in the hydraulic fracturing industry and a volunteer firefighter, claiming prostate cancer from AFFF exposure. 

September 2022: 

3M’s government contractor defense rejected by the MDL judge. 

December 2022: 

An additional 100 cases were added, total pending cases reach 3,399. 

January 2023: 

About 317 new lawsuits added, total at 3,704. 

March 2023: 

A lawsuit filed by a 62-year-old Texas man alleging prostate cancer from AFFF exposure. 

May 2023: 

A study on PFAS in firefighters’ gear was published. 

June 2, 2023: 

Settlement agreement with municipalities reached. 

June 5, 2023: 

The first trial scheduled is delayed for settlement discussions. 

July 5, 2023: 

Settlements for municipal water contamination lawsuits are announced. 

July 17, 2023: 

A significant influx of new cases (493) added to the MDL. 

August 1, 2023: 

A plaintiff substitution in the MDL due to a death. 

September 8, 2023: 

The MDL grows to 5,614 cases. 

October 3, 2023: 

A global settlement is reached for municipal AFFF lawsuits. 

October 26, 2023: 

New studies link AFFF to testicular and thyroid cancers. 

November 3, 2023: 

Deadline for the submission of proposed bellwether trial cases.