As a fire suppressant used to extinguish fires stemming from combustible and flammable liquids and gases, aqueous film-forming foam, AFFF, is toxic to civilian and military firefighters.
This is because it contains a high concentration of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS or "forever chemicals."
Two of the most common PFAS found in AFFF are PFOA and PFOS, exposure to which has a significant connection with cancer. For this reason, they have been deemed "possibly carcinogenic to humans" by multiple health and environmental agencies. Exposure to these chemicals can result in kidney, testicular, and prostate cancer, among other serious diseases.
A higher kidney cancer incidence and mortality have been observed among people with a history of PFOA exposure, particularly if the exposure occurred on the job, which is the case of firefighters. Furthermore, AFFF exposure is associated with poor overall kidney health and might cause kidney disease before resulting in kidney cancer. Because they have to undergo dialysis regularly, individuals with kidney disease are five times more likely to develop kidney cancer.
PFOA exposure was found to be associated with a higher risk of renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. Usually, when it is the result of AFFF exposure, kidney cancer occurs in civilian and military firefighters within 15 years of their first contact with the firefighting foam. Some of the most common symptoms of kidney cancer are abdominal swelling, blood in the urine, intermittent fever, pain in the back, and fatigue.
Recent studies have shown that PFAS can mimic hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which can throw the endocrine system off balance and eventually cause testicular cancer in civilian and military firefighters who use AFFF. Moreover, a study found that young men exposed to high PFAS levels over long periods of time experienced several different problems with their reproductive systems, such as lower testosterone activity resulting in lower sperm counts.
Out of the 9,000 chemicals making up the PFAS group, PFOA has the strongest connection with testicular cancer. Like kidney cancer, testicular cancer typically develops in firefighters exposed to AFFF within 15 years of their first contact with the product. It is worth noting that up to 25% of men with testicular cancer are misdiagnosed, so if you have been using AFFF on the job and suspect you have the disease, you should look for a second and even a third opinion.
Civilian and military firefighters have a 28% greater risk of developing prostate cancer than the general population. Epidemiology studies found that prostate cancer risk and mortality increase with PFAS exposure, so the more often a firefighter uses AFFF, the more likely they are to come to struggle with prostate cancer. Interestingly, a recent study found that a high-fat diet synergizes with PFAS exposure to change the metabolism of benign and malignant prostate cells, which can result in prostate cancer.
Evidence from occupational studies indicates that high PFOA levels and other PFAS chemicals may be associated with a considerably increased risk of prostate cancer incidence and mortality. Some of the most common symptoms of prostate cancer are urinating often, especially at night, pain or a burning sensation during urination, blood in the urine, and trouble emptying the bladder completely. Prostate cancer caused by AFFF exposure also takes approximately 15 years to occur in civilian and military firefighters from their first contact with the firefighting foam.
Exposure to PFOS and PFOA is linked to cancer, high cholesterol, birth defects, suppression of vaccines, and other serious health effects. Numerous studies have revealed associations between exposure to these chemicals and a variety of health effects, including:
A sliver of hope for military firefighters is the announcement of the Pentagon, according to which it will entirely phase out AFFF by the end of 2024 and switch to PFAS-free firefighting foam. Still, civilian firefighters will keep using the fire suppressant, which continues to increase their risk of developing cancer and other serious health problems. Finally, the toxicity of AFFF will still pose a danger to communities living in areas where the fire suppressant was used, as the PFAS it releases can persist in the environment for over a thousand years if cleanup activities are not performed.
If you are a civilian or military firefighter who has been using AFFF and now suffer from a disease, we encourage you to contact our expert team, as you might be entitled to compensation from the liable manufacturers. The only documents we will request are your employment or military records (if you are/were a military firefighter) and your medical records. Eligible firefighters will be put in touch with a top-notch attorney who can handle their claims.