October 2, 2020

Film-Forming Foam Caused Florida Firefighter’s Breast Cancer: Lawsuit

A recent claim filed in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina claims toxic chemicals in firefighting foam caused a firefighter to develop breast cancer. Dozens of lawsuits across the nation have been filed against the manufacturers of film-forming foam for failing to warn the public about the risks of exposure to chemicals in the foam.

Debbie Rittenhouse filed her complaint on September 15, joining a growing litigation against chemical and fire safety equipment manufacturers that produced toxic firefighting foam. Rittenhouse’s complaint calls out nearly a dozen firefighting foam companies for producing and selling toxic film-forming foam, including 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, and Chemguard, Inc.

Rittenhouse worked as a firefighter in Broward County, Florida from 1994 to 2018. In September 2016 she was diagnosed with grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma and metastasized lymph node, which she claims was caused by toxic chemicals in firefighting foam.

Firefighting foam, otherwise known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), is commonly used during training exercises and in response to fight certain fuel-based fires. However, since the 1940’s manufacturers have added chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to AFFF.

PFAS are manmade substances designed to resist heat and grease. PFAS can be found in a number of household products including popcorn bags, plastics, clothing, etc. Recently health officials have found PFAS can build up inside of the human body and never break down, increasing the risk of cancer and other severe injuries.

Studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that PFAS can settle in the kidney, blood, and liver, increasing individuals’ risk of liver and kidney cancer. Other firefighting foam injury lawsuits claim PFAS in AFFF caused firefighters’ colon, testicular, and breast cancer diagnoses.

According to product liability lawsuits filed across the nation, firefighters were never warned about the dangers of PFAS in firefighting foam nor trained how to safely use firefighting foam without risk of PFAS exposure.

“Throughout her long career, Plaintiff conducted routine trainings using Defendants’ AFFF and fluorochemical products,” Rittenhouse’s claim indicates. “At no point during her training or career did she receive any warning that Defendants’ AFFF containing PFOA and PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals was toxic or carcinogenic.”

Rittenhouse’s claim joins dozens of other firefighting foam injury lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, now centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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