Across the United States, communities grapple with the long-lasting consequences of AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) contamination. This firefighting foam, once hailed for its effectiveness, has left a legacy of environmental damage and potential health risks.
Data from the National Response Center highlights a disconcerting reality. It reports that since 1990, there have been 897 documented spills or usage reports of AFFF. These incidents extend beyond military installations and federal facilities, infiltrating civilian communities and sowing seeds of anxiety and uncertainty.
A poignant example of its peril unfolded during a hangar fire at Melbourne Orlando International Airport in Melbourne, Florida. The airport’s firefighting system discharged an astonishing 805,000 gallons of AFFF-laden water, resulting in widespread contamination of the surroundings.
This article discusses the human dimension of the crisis. It delves into the lived experiences of communities grappling with the consequences of the contamination.
The human toll of AFFF contamination is witnessed in the personal accounts of individuals directly affected by this environmental crisis. These narratives expose a deeply troubling intersection of health struggles, anxieties, and financial burdens borne by those living in the shadow of this exposure.
One such compelling story involves a former Air Force firefighter, Tracy Mitchem, who has initiated legal action against AFFF manufacturers after developing prostate cancer. A consequence he attributes to years of exposure during his military career.
According to a report by AboutLawsuits.com, Mitchem’s lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers were aware of the potential health risks associated with AFFF. However, they failed to provide adequate warnings.
AFFF contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), aptly termed “forever chemicals” for their persistent nature in the environment and the human body. However, the very resilience that makes PFAS effective in firefighting applications also poses significant challenges.
Due to their persistent nature, PFAS can accumulate in soil, water, and sediment, leading to environmental contamination. Moreover, these compounds can bioaccumulate in organisms, potentially reaching higher concentrations in the food chain and posing concerns for human health.
Mitchell’s legal action joins a growing number of AFFF lawsuits targeting chemical and safety equipment manufacturing companies. These lawsuits cite links between AFFF exposure and various cancers, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and other injuries.
The mention of firefighter foam cash settlements further underscores the recognition of the profound impact on individuals. Legal experts suggest that settlement amounts in AFFF lawsuits may range from $10,000 to well over $300,000.
TruLaw notes that the settlement will be contingent on factors such as the level of exposure, and the severity of medical problems endured. Moreover, it is crucial to note that these figures do not guarantee financial compensation, emphasizing the complex nature of legal resolutions in these cases.
In the face of widespread AFFF contamination, communities across the nation are rising to the challenge and demanding action. Grassroots initiatives have emerged as powerful forces, raising awareness, demanding testing, and holding polluters accountable for the environmental damage.
One of the most significant challenges faced by these communities is limited access to information and resources. Many individuals lack knowledge about the dangers of AFFF exposure and the pathways through which PFAS can contaminate their environment.
Additionally, access to testing for exposure and healthcare services for related health problems can be costly and difficult to obtain.
Despite these challenges, communities have demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination in their fight for justice. Successful community-driven campaigns have resulted in positive changes, including:
- Increased testing: Communities have forced local authorities to conduct comprehensive testing of their water supplies and soil for PFAS contamination. This information is crucial for understanding the extent of the problem and taking necessary mitigation measures.
- Stricter regulations: Advocacy efforts have led to the implementation of stricter regulations on AFFF use and the development of safer firefighting alternatives.
- Financial compensation: Communities have secured settlements from AFFF manufacturers, providing financial resources for individuals and families affected by PFAS exposure.
- Public awareness: Through public education campaigns, community groups have effectively raised awareness about the dangers of PFAS and the need for action.
Moreover, states burdened by the escalating costs of cleaning up “forever chemicals” have taken legal action against chemical manufacturers. According to Bloomberg Law, states like Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maryland, and Rhode Island have filed lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers. Their assertions center on the contamination of drinking water by PFAS, including those present in AFFF.
This legal action aligns with a broader trend, as numerous other states embark on similar litigation endeavors. Notably, the lawsuits frequently target major corporations such as DuPont de Nemours Inc., Corteva Inc., the Chemours Co., and 3M Co. These companies have found themselves implicated in billion-dollar-plus settlements in a federal multidistrict AFFF case.
Communities stress the need for increased funding for research and the development of effective remediation strategies.
A significant development in this trajectory is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) release of proposed maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for common PFAS types. According to Water Finance & Management, the proposed MCLs, set at 4 parts per trillion (ppt) signify a regulatory framework.
This would compel drinking water utilities nationwide to respond to concentrations exceeding the threshold. It can be done either by removing contaminated sources or implementing treatment measures.
Courts are also playing a pivotal role in holding PFAS polluters accountable. Notably, in the AFFF multidistrict litigation, Judge Richard Mark Gergel denied 3M’s attempt to evade liability using the government contractor defense. Additionally, court rulings in various states, including the State of New York, have upheld or enacted PFAS maximum contaminant levels.
In summary, the widespread contamination originating from Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) unfolds as a complex environmental and public health challenge. The undeniable impact is witnessed in the personal narratives of individuals contending with health issues and the collective resilience exhibited by affected communities.
Navigating this intricate landscape underscores that the quest for justice, safety, and environmental responsibility is an evolving journey. The insights gained from this crisis underscore the significance of persistent endeavors to reform policies and prioritize the health and resilience of communities.