July 28, 2020

Firefighting Foam Exposure Caused Fatal Leukemia, Wrongful Death Lawsuit Claims

The wife of an ex-firefighter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against firefighting foam manufacturers, claiming exposure to toxic chemicals in the foam caused her husband to develop and die from acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This lawsuit joins hundreds of others from across the U.S., each alleging toxic foam caused individuals to develop severe injuries.

Last week Deidre Culhane filed her complaint in the U.S. District Court from the District of Southern California. The claim, brought forward on behalf of her and her late husband David, claims he was exposed to toxic aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for nearly 40 years during his career as a firefighter.

Ms. Culhane indicates in the lawsuit that her husband was regularly exposed to firefighting foam during his time as a firefighter at the Arlington Fire Department. A year after he retired, Culhane was diagnosed with AML, which caused his death several months later. There was no prior family history of AML.

“Slowly and tortuously, Mr. Culhane was overcome by the disease,” Ms. Culhane states in the lawsuit. “On July 18, 2018, he finally succumbed to the cancer and passed away in the presence of his family. The last year of Mr. Culhane’s life could best be described as a perilous struggle against a disease whose origin was still a mystery to his family and him. It remained a mystery until October 2019, when Plaintiff discovered information about AFFF being a human carcinogen.”

The lawsuit calls out several manufacturers and distributors of firefighting foam as defendants. AFFF manufactures named in the lawsuit include 3M Company, Chemguard, Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., and the Chemours Company.

Toxic Firefighting Foam Side Effects

AFFF foam has been actively used by military bases, airports, and civilian fire fighting organizations for decades. However, recent research has found that chemicals added to fire fighting foam can be toxic to human health.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals designed to resist grease, oil, water and heat. AFFF manufacturers have added PFAS to their foam since the 1940’s to help fight oil-based fires, but these chemicals can be found in everything from plastics to furniture.

Recent studies uncovered PFAS can build up inside of the body and never break down, causing severe side effects. According to health officials at the FDA, CDC, and American Cancer Society (ACS), PFAS can increase individuals’ risk of developing cancer. Lawsuits brought forward by those injured by firefighting foam exposure claim PFAS in AFFF caused cancer diagnoses including testicular, pancreatic, ovarian, and liver cancer.  

“Defendants in this case knew the risks AFFF presented to the health of human beings,” the lawsuit states. “They knew that the users of PFAS containing AFFF would most often be those who take on the most sacred of public charges. But instead of informing the selfless public servants, giving them a chance to choose if the risk was worth the use, Defendants simply took that agency away from people like David Culhane.”

In December 2018, lawsuits against firefighting foam manufacturers for PFAS exposure where centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings.

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