In the realm of firefighting, aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, has been a vital tool in combating flammable liquid fires for decades. It’s been extensively used in various settings, including fire training facilities, military installations, and even aboard ships.
However, its journey has taken a legal turn in recent years due to concerns about its toxic components, particularly per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Studies have linked severe illnesses to long-term exposure while highlighting the ill effects of the foam on the environment.
This has caused a public outcry and triggered an increasing number of lawsuits to be filed under AFFF manufacturers. According to ConsumerNotice.org, there were 5,227 pending AFFF lawsuits in South Carolina multidistrict litigation as of 2023.
In this article, we will discuss the legal challenges surrounding AFFF, its health and environmental concerns, litigation, and potential alternatives.
AFFF and Its Mechanism
AFFF is prized for its ability to smother fires involving flammable liquids such as petroleum. The mechanism involves the creation of a film that prevents oxygen from reaching the fuel source.
It is available in different formulations, with varying concentrations of water and additives, to adapt to specific firefighting needs. As noted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation, AFFF is available in 3% and 6% concentrates. They are also referred to as Type 3 and Type 6.
AFFF and Health Concerns
One of the central legal issues surrounding AFFF is its potential health risks. Exposure to PFAS in AFFF has raised concerns about long-term health effects, including cancer and other ailments. Studies have linked AFFF to a range of health problems, from thyroid disease to increased cancer risks.
According to ATSDR, PFAS accumulate in the body over time and there’s no easy way to get rid of them. PFAS have been classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans by organizations like the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Beyond its impact on human health, AFFF has raised environmental concerns. PFAS contamination from AFFF can seep into groundwater and affect communities living near facilities that use the foam.
The AFFF Litigation
TorHoerman Law notes that numerous lawsuits have emerged, primarily from firefighters and communities affected by AFFF contamination. These legal battles allege that AFFF manufacturers knew about the health risks but failed to adequately warn the public.
According to an update, the AFFF manufacturer, 3M, offered $10 billion in firefighter foam cash settlements in June 2023. This settlement aims to resolve some of these AFFF claims. If approved, this settlement will prove to be a landmark verdict in the history of the U.S. environmental litigation.
AFFF lawsuits have expanded to include various entities, from chemical manufacturers to oversight bodies like the National Fire Protection Association. These legal actions aim to hold responsible parties accountable for the use of AFFF and PFAS chemicals.
AFFF’s Technology and Its Alternatives
Amid the legal battles, there is a growing interest in finding safer alternatives to AFFF that are just as effective. Researchers are exploring innovative firefighting foam technologies to reduce health and environmental risks.
Some alternative firefighting foams are being developed with a focus on biodegradability and reduced toxicity. They offer promising options for the future of fire suppression.
Toward a Safer Tomorrow
Balancing the need for effective firefighting foam with the need to protect human health and the environment remains a challenge. Government agencies, manufacturers, and researchers are collaborating to find a path forward that ensures both firefighter safety and environmental awareness.
As we chart a path forward in the realm of firefighting foam technology, prioritizing firefighter and environmental safety is crucial. One promising avenue is the continued collaboration between government agencies, manufacturers, and researchers to develop innovative, eco-friendly firefighting solutions.
These advancements aim to strike a balance between fire suppression efficacy and reduced health and environmental risks. Additionally, robust training programs can empower firefighters with the knowledge to make informed choices about the foams they use. All of these factors contribute to improved firefighting safety and sustainability.
The legal battles surrounding AFFF have shed light on the critical need for safer firefighting solutions. The health risks associated with PFAS in AFFF have prompted a wave of litigation, prompting manufacturers to consider settlements.
The quest for alternative firefighting foams that prioritize biodegradability and reduced toxicity offers hope for a safer future. As we move forward, collaboration between government agencies, manufacturers, and researchers is crucial.
Ultimately, this journey toward safer fire suppression reinforces the importance of safeguarding both human health and our environment in the face of fire-related challenges.