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PFAS are still present in modern AFFF formulations

After the safety of per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) was called into question due to mounting evidence of their relation to debilitating and deadly diseases, the compounds began being phased out of products like aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).

Despite taking a step back from toxic 'legacy PFAS,' many AFFF manufacturers merely substituted them with newer, supposedly safer variations.

AFFF was developed during the 1960s by the US Naval Research Lab in collaboration with the Minnesota-based 3M chemical company to extinguish type B fuel fires quickly. By the early 1970s, AFFF's efficiency earned it widespread use across multiple US military bases, civilian airports, and local fire departments.

The foam's excellent flame-retardant qualities resulted from the PFAS in its composition, synthetic carbon-fluoride compounds that makeup 50 - 90% of AFFF's contents. Although there are over 12,000 known variations, the main PFAS subtypes used in AFFF's first formulations (also known as 'legacy PFAS') were:

  • PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid)
  • PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid)

For decades, AFFF manufacturers claimed that their products present no hazard risks to human health and environmental safety, with 3M even describing their brand as "biodegradable [and] low in toxicity" on its technical data sheet. However, internal documents indicate that AFFF manufacturers were long aware of PFAS' potential health risks yet chose not to disclose these details.

Legacy PFAS have been found to be highly mobile in the environment, extremely persistent, and bioaccumulative. An ample body of medical research into PFOA and PFOS' adverse health effects identified links to several diseases, including:

Around the early 2000s, AFFF manufacturers started phasing out PFOA and PFOS from their products, replacing them with short-chain PFAS types. As opposed to legacy PFAS, which have 8 carbon atoms in their structure, short-chain PFAS have less and include commonly used compounds such as:

  • PFBA
  • PFBS
  • PFHxA
  • PFHxS
  • HFPO-DA (Gen X)
  • 6:2 FTOH
  • 8:2 FTOH

Still, despite having fewer carbon links and thus being supposedly weaker and more prone to biodegradation, short-chain PFAS share many of the same negative traits as the PFOA and PFOS they were meant to replace. The substitutes don't necessarily break down quicker, can be just as persistent as legacy types, are harder to remove, and medical experts identified similar health concerns, even though more precise clinical and toxicological evidence is required to conclusively confirm these findings.

Despite experts' caution when describing short-chain PFAS' potential health risks due to insufficient definitive evidence, some manufacturers are quick to greenwash the compounds' presence in AFFF safety data sheets, alluding to them as "environmentally-mindful" alternatives to the toxic long-chain legacy variants they're replacing.

Another questionable practice employed by manufacturers is the use of insufficiently descriptive terms in AFFF safety data sheets when referring to PFAS compounds, ranging from the generic "fluorosurfactants" to the confusing "synthetic detergent" and vague "proprietary mixture." Moreover, such chemicals may also be labeled "trade secrets," making it more challenging to determine precisely which type of PFAS was used.

Given manufacturers' track record of covering up their products' health risks and the increasing evidence of PFAS connection to life-threatening diseases, individuals who used or were exposed to AFFF and its toxins should know they have an option for legal recourse. If you served as a military or civilian firefighter, employed AFFF, and were diagnosed with a PFAS-related illness, we urge you to contact Atraxia Law, and we will gladly review your case and determine if your claim is eligible for financial compensation from the liable manufacturers.

File an AFFF claim with the help of Atraxia Law's experts

For over three decades, Atraxia Law's legal specialists have successfully represented clients in complex toxic exposure and personal injury cases, securing the financial restitutions their suffering entitles them to.

We will only need you to provide us with your occupational or military records and a valid diagnosis confirming your condition to assess your claim's validity.

Once we've established your eligibility, we will put you in contact with a specialized attorney who will comprehensively handle your case.