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What firefighters need to know about AFFF exposure

By now, it is a widely known fact that civilian and military firefighters who use the fire suppressant AFFF are at high risk of developing serious, even life-threatening diseases, including cancer.

They have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% greater risk of dying from cancer than the general population.

Because AFFF contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, exposure to this fire suppressant is very dangerous.

Even low concentrations of these highly toxic chemicals in the blood can give way to disease.

Certain PFAS accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. It takes approximately four years for the level of these chemicals to go down by half. This poses a major health threat to civilian and military firefighters who use AFFF. It is estimated that a whopping 97% of the U.S. population has PFAS in their blood, but it is important to note that firefighters usually have much higher levels than the general population due to their regular AFFF use.

As a result of the collaboration between the Naval Research Laboratory and the 3M Company, the formula of aqueous film-forming foam, AFFF, was devised in the 1960s. Ever since then, the fire suppressant has been present within the military to extinguish Class B fires, which refers to those stemming from combustible and flammable liquids and gases. Subsequently, civilian firefighters began using AFFF, too, as it is very effective in putting out fires. The following are some noteworthy facts about AFFF exposure that firefighters should be aware of:

  • because the PFAS from AFFF accumulate in the firehouses where they live, it is likely that firefighters routinely ingest these chemicals when eating and drinking
  • toxic dust on counters, furniture, and bedding is another source of PFAS exposure in civilian and military firefighters who bring their turnout gear home
  • firefighters absorb PFAS through the skin while they wear turnout gear, as it is coated with these chemicals for their fire-retardant properties
  • they also inhale PFAS while using AFFF and because the chemicals accumulate in the firehouses and fumes linger over the fire sights after use

While PFAS refer to over 9,000 different chemicals, those that are often lurking in AFFF are PFOA and PFOS, which are perhaps the most dangerous, as they have a strong association with cancer. Both substances are "possibly carcinogenic to humans," according to multiple health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Exposure to PFOA and PFOS can cause kidney and testicular cancer in firefighters who use AFFF. Unfortunately, these are far from being the only diseases it can result in.

If you are a civilian or military firefighter, you can take the following precautions to minimize your PFAS exposure:

  • properly remove and bag contaminated turnout gear prior to transporting it
  • use cleaning wipes on your face, neck, and hands immediately after AFFF exposure
  • shower within one hour of returning to the fire station or home
  • wear protective equipment and a self-contained breathing apparatus when using AFFF

Before causing a disease, AFFF exposure might result in various health problems, such as fertility issues, asthma, liver damage, high cholesterol, and damage to the immune system. PFOA and PFOS have been deemed "emerging contaminants" by the EPA. That means they are suspected of causing negative health effects in humans. Furthermore, these chemicals are "persistent," so they do not break down after entering the body. When AFFF is used, PFOA and PFOS spread throughout nearby soil, often contaminating local drinking water sources.

File your AFFF exposure claim with the assistance of our expert team

If you are a civilian or military firefighter who has been using AFFF and now struggle with a disease, our team of professionals will gladly evaluate your case. With over 35 years of experience in reviewing toxic exposure claims, we will let you know whether you are entitled to compensation from the liable AFFF manufacturers. Eligible individuals will be put in touch with a reliable, specialized attorney to have their claims filed.