Exposure to ‘forever chemicals’ in firefighter gear, foam prompt new lawsuits

The chemicals at the focus of the legal challenges, also known as PFAS, were found in either their aqueous film-forming foams or protective firefighter gear.
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 5:50 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2023 at 7:09 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - More than 40 companies are now facing new class action lawsuits that claim their products led to exposure to “forever chemicals” that caused defendants to develop “serious medical conditions.”

The chemicals at the focus of the legal challenges, also known as PFAS, were found in either their aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) or protective firefighter turnout gear.

The Soloman Law Group, based in Columbia, filed two separate, but similar, lawsuits in Charleston and Berkeley Counties on Friday naming more than 130 plaintiffs total.

Those include Richard Nelson, of Bonneau, and Leroy Palmer Jr., of North Charleson but plaintiffs live across the country.

They were either military or civilian firefighters and now reportedly suffer from a variety of illnesses including prostate, bladder and pancreatic cancers.

The defendants include some of the largest chemical companies including BASF Corporation, 3M, and the Dupont Company as well as producers of firefighting gear like Mine Safety and Supply LLC and Globe Manufacturing Company LLC.

A June 2020 study by the University of Notre Dame analyzed protective gear distributed as recently as 2017 and “found high levels of PFAS” but the suits point out that the gear “does not contain labeling information saying that the gear contains PFAS.”

When exposed to high temperatures, as firefighters often do, the lawsuit claims that the PFAS chemicals can become “highly mobile and toxic particles.”

The lawsuit states, “[d]efendants... should have foreseen that allowing PFAS to contaminate the blood and/or body of Plaintiffs would cause injury, irreparable harm, and/or unacceptable risk.”

The plaintiffs are suing for an unspecified amount of damages and have requested a jury trial.

The newly filed legal challenges draw similarities to others filed earlier this year, including the International Association of Fire Fighters’ lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association.

The IAFF sued the organization in March claiming that the NFPA had a testing standard that “effectively requires the use of PFAS in firefighter protective gear.”

The NFPA responded, calling the IAFF’s legal challenge “meritless” and stated that the NFPA “does not specify or require the use of any particular materials, chemicals or treatments.”

Another 15 firefighters in Massachusetts filed a federal lawsuit against several companies claiming their products had led to “elevated” levels of PFAS in their blood, and were a “substantial factor and proximate cause” of their illnesses.

A spokesperson for 3M provided the following statement:

As the science and technology of PFAS, societal and regulatory expectations, and our expectations of ourselves have evolved, so has how we manage PFAS. We have and will continue to deliver on our commitments – including remediating PFAS, investing in water treatment, and collaborating with communities. 3M also will continue to address other PFAS litigation by defending itself in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate.

Several other companies did not respond to a request for comment.

Clariant stated they could not provide a comment and Johnson Controls Inc. also responded “generally it is our practice not to comment on ongoing litigation.”