AFFF Litigation

The Future of AFFF Litigation: Potential Legislative Solutions

For years, firefighters have relied on aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to combat hydrocarbon fuel fires. But growing scientific concerns link the PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in AFFF to several health risks, including cancer, thyroid issues, and weakened immune systems.

This revelation has sparked a wave of lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers, raising concerns about the long-term viability of litigation and prompting discussions about alternative solutions.

The Current Landscape of AFFF Lawsuits

According to TorHoerman Law, thousands of firefighters, military personnel, and civilians exposed to AFFF through contaminated water supplies have filed lawsuits.​​ These are primarily against companies like 3M, DuPont, and Chemours, alleging negligence and failure to warn about the health risks. 

The lawsuits primarily fall under two legal categories:

  • Product liability: This theory claims that manufacturers knew or should have known about the dangers of PFAS yet failed to warn consumers, leading to health problems.
  • Medical malpractice: This theory focuses on situations where healthcare providers exposed individuals to AFFF, causing illness. Although the exposure is more likely to come from medical gowns or drapes treated with water-repellent coatings that might contain PFAS or medical devices that may have PFAS components, these are potential risks that are being investigated.

While some lawsuits have resulted in settlements, particularly those related to water contamination, the overall progress has been slow. The sheer volume of cases has created a backlog in the court system, and complex scientific evidence regarding PFAS health risks adds another layer of difficulty.

The lack of evidence is due to the lack of significant data on many pollutants and how they impact different people. Upgrading infrastructure, stricter standards, and better treatment are needed to address this complex issue. Protecting water sources could be more effective than relying on treatment alone.

Challenges of AFFF Litigation

Several factors contribute to the challenges associated with AFFF lawsuits:

  • Lengthy legal process: Individual lawsuits can take years to resolve, leaving plaintiffs with mounting medical bills and emotional distress.

This trend bears some resemblance to the protracted asbestos litigation, suggesting that PFAS cases may also be characterized by extended timelines. The complexities of establishing causation and pinpointing liability likely contribute to these extended legal battles. 

The potential targets for such lawsuits could encompass a wide range of entities, including manufacturers, companies incorporating PFAS into their products, and even retailers.

  • Scientific uncertainty: While a strong link exists between PFAS exposure and health problems, fully understanding the specific risks remains an ongoing scientific pursuit. This uncertainty can complicate establishing causation in court.
  • Resource limitations: Fighting large corporations requires significant resources, which may be an obstacle for individual plaintiffs.

A recent AFFF lawsuit update (June 2024) indicates that while individual personal injury cases are ongoing, a large number of water contamination claims have been resolved through a global settlement agreement. This highlights the potential for different avenues within AFFF litigation, with some areas potentially finding quicker resolution.

Potential Legislative Solutions

Given these challenges, many look to legislative solutions to expedite AFFF-related claims and ensure broader justice. Here are some potential legislative avenues:

  • Federal Legislation: A federal law could establish a dedicated compensation program for individuals demonstrably harmed by AFFF exposure. This approach could streamline the process, reduce the burden on the court system, and offer faster financial relief to victims.
  • Presumptive Illness Laws: These laws would automatically qualify certain illnesses as work-related for firefighters exposed to AFFF, simplifying the process of receiving workers’ compensation benefits. States like New Jersey and Minnesota are leading the change by enacting such laws.
  • Increased Funding for PFAS Research: Continued research is a must to better understand the full scope of PFAS health risks and to develop effective treatment strategies. Increased federal funding for research can accelerate these efforts.

New Mexico secured $18.9 million to fight PFAS in public water systems. Funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA grant targets safeguarding New Mexico’s drinking water. A two-year sampling program will assess contamination levels, with a focus on helping disadvantaged communities. Plans will be developed to remove PFAS and educate residents about health risks.

A recent discussion on the ongoing issue of PFAS contamination in North Carolina proved that while there is promising research underway to develop better methods for removing PFAS from water, environmentalists are calling for stricter regulations to limit PFAS exposure.

A sum of $50 million is allocated by the North Carolina General Assembly for PFAS research by 2025. UNC researchers are developing special resins that can target and absorb PFAS from water, potentially improving current filtration systems.

However, environmental advocates argue that research is not enough. They point out that there haven’t been any regulations passed to limit PFAS since 2017, despite the discovery of GenX chemicals in the Cape Fear River. They believe the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) needs more resources and authority to enforce regulations and protect public health.


1. Can I Still File a Lawsuit Today if I Was Exposed to AFFF Many Years Ago?

The possibility of filing a lawsuit depends on your specific circumstances, the state you reside in, and the existence of relevant laws. Talk to a legal professional/an attorney today; someone who specializes in AFFF litigations, and explore your options.

2. Could You List Some Potential Health Risks Associated With Exposure to PFAS?

Research suggests PFAS exposure might be connected to health issues like cancer, thyroid problems, and weakened immunity. However, the specific risks can differ based on the type and length of exposure.

3. How Do I Reduce My Exposure to PFAS?

Several steps can be taken to minimize PFAS exposure, such as filtering your drinking water, avoiding certain types of cookware (opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick pans), and limiting consumption of contaminated seafood. Follow fish consumption advisories for your area.

Wrapping up, the future of AFFF litigation appears to depend on a multi-pronged approach. While lawsuits will likely continue to play a role, legislative solutions offer a more comprehensive path to justice for those impacted by AFFF exposure. Additionally, stricter regulations on the production and use of PFAS-containing products are essential to prevent future harm.

Collaboration between legislators, advocacy groups, and industry stakeholders is critical to finding a solution that balances the need for firefighter safety with environmental protection and responsible product development. 

Some potential areas for future research to inform legislative solutions include the long-term health effects of chronic low-level PFAS exposure, the development of effective PFAS remediation technologies, and the identification of safer alternatives.

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