December 21, 2020

Former Firefighter Claims PFAS in Firefighting Foam Caused His Kidney Cancer

A newly filed lawsuit claims dangerous chemicals in firefighting foam caused a Floridian man’s kidney cancer diagnosis and subsequent kidney removal. This lawsuit joins over 200 others, each similarly alleging that firefighting foam exposure caused health complications like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, heart cancer, and breast cancer.

According to the complaint, James Edward Collie was regularly exposed to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) during his career as a military and/or civilian firefighter. The former firefighter alleges that exposure to toxic chemicals called per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in AFFF caused his kidney cancer diagnosis and following kidney removal.

PFAS are manmade chemicals designed to resist heat, water, grease, and stains. They were first introduced to the manufacturing industry in the 1940s and have been since included in numerous products including plastics, food packaging, and, notably, Class B AFFF.

“AFFF is a specialized substance designed to extinguish petroleum-based fires,” Collie’s lawsuit indicates. “It has been used for decades by military and civilian firefighters to extinguish fires in training and in response to Class B fires.”

However, since their release on the market, PFAS have been linked to adverse health conditions such as liver damage, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFAS can build up or bioaccumulate inside of the body and never break down, causing the aforementioned injuries.  

Collie’s lawsuit, filed on December 8th, indicates he regularly used and was directly exposed to firefighting foam to help fight fires and train to fight fires. However, Collie was never informed that the foam was toxic or that he would need protective gear in order to safely to handle the foam.

“AFFF and its components are associated with a wide variety of adverse health effects in humans,” Collie indicates in his complaint. “Exposure to Defendants’ AFFF has been linked to serious medical conditions including, but not limited to, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, liver cancer, testicular tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, bladder cancer, thyroid disease, and infertility.”  

Numerous companies across the U.S. manufacture firefighting foam containing PFAS including 3M Company, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, and Chemguard, Inc. These companies, among others, are named as defendants in Collie’s lawsuit.

According to Collie’s lawsuit, AFFF manufacturers knew as early as the 1960s about PFAS toxicity and never warned consumers about the health risks. Additional studies conducted in the last decade have confirmed the health risks of exposure to PFAS in AFFF.

“By at least 2010, additional research and testing performed by Defendants manufacturing and/or using PFAS, including at least 3M and DuPont, revealed multiple potential adverse health impacts among workers exposed to such PFAS,” Collie’s complaint states.

Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Due to the increasing, similar claims that AFFF exposure caused injuries, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to centralize these federal lawsuits as part of a multidistrict litigation. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel now oversees these lawsuits in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division. Collie and other individuals filing firefighting foam cancer lawsuits in this litigation are suing for damages for personal injury caused by PFAS in AFFF.

As part of pretrial proceedings, Judge Gergel established a “bellwether” trial process to help address the increasing lawsuits. Bellwether trials are a series of early trial dates designed to help parties gauge how juries might respond to certain testimony and evidence likely to be repeated throughout the claims.

By the end of the bellwether process, if parties have not reached a firefighting foam settlement, each individual case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court it was originally filed in for a future trial date.

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