Fire Extinguishing Foam and the Toxic Chemicals Known as The Forever Chemicals

March 6, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Fire Extinguishing Foam and the Toxic Chemicals Known as The Forever Chemicals

What is Fire Extinguishing Foam?

Fire extinguishing foam is also known as firefighter foam or Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). It is a fire suppressant that has been around for more than 50 years. In particular, this firefighting foam solution is highly effective for extinguishing liquid fires, such as those found in the oil industry, and fires caused by gasoline and jet fuel.

AFFF firefighting foam acts as a fire suppressor by coating the fuel surface and keeping flammable vapors from mixing with oxygen, which would ignite flames. While this high-expansion foam does have many benefits, it has been linked to serious health concerns and environmental problems, including a potential firefighting foam cancer risk.

Firefighting Foam Contains Toxic Forever Chemicals

Firefighting Foam Contains Toxic Forever Chemicals

Firefighting foam contains dangerous chemicals called "forever chemicals." These toxins can seep into the soil and water, causing long-term damage. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to a range of illnesses and ailments, such as cancer.

AFFF firefighting foam first gained notoriety due to its effectiveness in combatting fires caused by combustible liquids. As a result, firefighters, military personnel, and airport workers who use these foams are at high risk for developing firefighting foam cancers and other related illnesses due to their exposure to these forever chemicals.

Have You Been Exposed to Firefighter Foam Concentrate?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, and you believe that your exposure to firefighter foam concentrate caused your cancer, you may have the right to seek compensation for your losses and the legal damages you suffered. When a product injures multiple people, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may be liable in a product liability lawsuit.

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA (Dolman Law Group), our attorneys have extensive experience fighting these complex product liability claims. We have helped thousands of injured consumers obtain the justice and compensation they deserve from negligent and irresponsible companies.

Our law firm is presently representing over 100 firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer after using AFFF firefighting foams. Many of our clients worked at airports, military bases, or fire departments, where this foam was used to extinguish fires caused by flammable liquids.

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Government Orders Transition From AFFF to Fluorine-Free Foam

Knowing that AFFF firefighting foams are extremely dangerous, our federal government has ordered the transition from fluorinated aqueous film-forming foams to suppress flammable liquid-type fires, known as Class B fires, to fluorine-free foams (FFFs). This move is mainly because AFFF firefighting foams contain very dangerous forever chemicals that are known carcinogens (known to cause cancer).

You can read more about the actual forever chemicals inside AFFF firefighting foams in the following few paragraphs. Although AFFFs are not banned, the country is transitioning to fluorine-free foams due to the overwhelming science linking the use of AFFF firefighting foams for fire suppression to various cancers.

Why is the risk of firefighting foam cancer so high? The answer lies in the types of toxic chemicals in the AFFF foam. Thankfully, there is another, better option. However, this transition comes too late for many who have already been exposed.

Two Foam Blanket Options

Class B fire fighting foams are the best options for suppressing liquid, fuel, and chemical fires because they form a blanket of bubbles on the surface of the flammable liquid fires to keep oxygen from mixing and creating flames. Let's compare the two most popular options: AFFF foams and Fluorine-free foams.

What Chemicals are in a Fire Fighting AFFF Foam Blanket?

Firefighting foam concentrate, also known as firefighter foam or (AFFF) contains many toxic chemicals. Man-made chemicals known as Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can all be found in a wide range of consumer products. Polyfluoroalkyl substances have been extensively studied over the past decade due to their cancer-causing propensities. PFAS chemicals also include two other compounds, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), that have been identified in firefighting aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).

PFAS chemicals also contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFNA), which has also been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). This specific type of firefighting foam is widely used across the US and has been shown to have links to cancer in those who are exposed to it. It is important to note that AFFF is not only used to combat actual fuel fires, but is also routinely used in fire training.

What is the Chemical Composition of Fluorine-Free Foams?

Fluorine-free foams are made up of water, solvents, hydrocarbon surfactant blends, and polysaccharides that are not harmful to the environment. They also contain no PFAs, so the environmental impact is low. In fact, many of the substances are biodegradable, unlike the chemicals found in AFFFs that can remain in the soil and water supplies for an extended time.

The fluorine-free foam creates a bubble blanket that coats the flammable liquid, cools it, and extinguishes the flames by keeping oxygen from fueling the fire.

PFAS Chemicals in AFFF Foam Are Extremely Dangerous

PFAS is extremely dangerous to both individuals and the environment. They have been labeled "forever chemicals" because they can migrate into the soil and water, where they do not break down. Hence, they remain in the environment forever or at least for decades before potentially degrading. The adverse environmental impact caused by firefighting foams continues to grow.

PFAS are not biodegradable and impact both soil and water supplies. Thus, their impact can be felt by an entire community. Numerous counties and municipalities around the country have sued the manufacturers of AFFF over the costs of containment and cleanup/remediation of land and groundwater inundated with PFAS from firefighting foam.

PFAS has Been Linked to the Following Cancers

  • Kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Liver cancer

How Does Aqueous Film Forming Foam Work?

AFFF has been in production since the early 1960s by the US Navy and 3M. The original AFFF is one of two types of synthetic foam that is effective in suppressing high-hazard flammable liquid fires that are classified as Class B fires. Coating the fuel with the firefighting foam prevents the fire from interacting with oxygen. As a result, the foam denies the fire the ability to further combust liquids like jet fuel and gasoline.

In other words, the foaming agents smother the fire and block any oxygen supply to class B fires. Other types of foam, such as alcohol-resistant (AR-AFFF) foam, are also utilized in certain situations, such as containing polar solvent fires. 

As effective as AFFF is, there has been increased scrutiny of the firefighting foam in recent years as the health risk of these dangerous chemicals has been exposed. There is no question AFFF extinguishes flammable liquids, but the adverse risks to human health and the environment have led to numerous firefighting foam lawsuits being filed on behalf of individuals.

PFOS/PFAS and Firefighting Foam Cancer

Aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS man-made chemicals is a danger to both the environment and humans. Scientists chose the nickname “Forever Chemicals” in part for how long the chemicals take to break down in the environment. Scientific evidence links PFAS to cancer, reproductive issues, harm to the human immune system, and other diseases, even in small doses. Once these chemicals enter the human body, it becomes difficult to eliminate them.

Toxic exposure to AFFF causes harm to all kinds of different workers who use the toxic firefighting foam, as well as citizens who live in areas surrounding the areas. Firefighters have the highest risk of experiencing health issues because of their increased exposure to AFFF during training and while fighting fires in real-world scenarios. 

Airport workers, military personnel, mill workers, workers who manufacture these chemicals, and residents that live in the surrounding areas of an airport, military base, or mill production plant are most at risk of the hazards of AFFF.

Health organizations, such as the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) and U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), continue to report an association between PFAS and many different types of cancer. A study done by Biomonitoring California showed high levels of PFAS (the chemical found in AFFF) in their firefighter test subjects. Another study by UC Berkeley and Harvard University researchers estimated 6 million or more people may have been exposed to PFAS contamination through their drinking water. Arlene Blum, the co-author of the study and visiting scholar in the Department of Chemistry and Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute, expressed concerns regarding the contamination of the drinking water. She said, “During firefighting practice drills, large volumes of these toxic chemicals wash into surface and groundwater and can end up in our drinking water.”

Firefighting Foam Cancer Side Effects and Complications

Firefighting foam has been found to cause many different types of cancer and other medical issues, including:

  • Testicular cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Fertility complications
  • Breast cancer
  • Damaged immune system
  • Liver Cancer
  • Leukemia

If you're a firefighter, airport worker, military personnel, mill worker, or a resident that lives in the surrounding areas of an airport, military base, or mill production plant, and have experienced medical issues due to AFFF fire fighting foam, speak with an experienced AFFF attorney to discuss your rights and options.

Nothing can make up for the pain and suffering caused by a company's negligence. However, at Dolman Law Group, our mass tort attorneys will aggressively fight for justice on behalf of our clients and their loved ones by protecting their rights and seeking the justice they deserve.

Current and Past Actions Being Taken Against AFFF Manufacturers

Many fire departments have stopped using firefighting foam containing PFAS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the military, and manufacturers are well aware of the dangers of the toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam.

  • The Department of Defense (DoD) has identified approximately 401 military sites the toxic chemicals from the firefighting foam have potentially contaminated. They've committed millions of dollars to clean up these areas surrounding bases where firefighting foam was used in training exercises.
  • The Navy is working on a foam that does not contain PFAS or PFOS and creating a policy to dispose of the AFFF they currently have in operation.
  • In 2018, the FAA Reauthorization Act required all airports to stop using firefighting foam that contains PFAS by October 2021.
  • Multidistrict litigation with approximately 500 cases, known as AFFF Product Liability, is being consolidated in the District of South Carolina of the U.S. District Court. Judge Richard Gergel is the judge assigned for discovery and pretrial matters, as well as any additional tort cases that will be transferred to his court.
  • In Ohio, a jury in a U.S. District Court in Columbus awarded a married couple compensation after suffering two bouts of testicular cancer from years of drinking water contaminated with PFAS that Dupont Co. dumped into the Ohio River.
  • Shareholders have filed class-action lawsuits accusing companies of misleading investors over the extent of PFAS liabilities.
  • Vermont, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Alabama, New Hampshire, Ohio, Washington, New Mexico, and California have all filed lawsuits targeting the companies responsible for contaminating community water systems in their states.
  • Dupont and Chemours have filed lawsuits against each other as they argue over liability for PFAS contamination.

Seek an Experienced AFFF Firefighting Foam Attorney

Personal Injury Lawyer
Matt Dolman, AFFF Firefighting Foam Attorney

Companies that produce AFFF have known the long-term health risk associated with these toxic chemicals for decades. Companies like 3M, Dupont Co, Chemours Co, Tyco, Chemguard, Kidde-Fenwal, and others are responsible for not warning citizens and workers of the dangers of their chemicals and that they build up in humans and the environment. Some lawyers have compared this situation to other litigation concerning chemicals like asbestos, tobacco, and lead paint.

If you or a loved one has developed a serious illness or cancer because of a company's negligence or has been exposed to the toxic chemicals in AFFF firefighting foam, you may be entitled to seek compensation for the damages you suffered by filing a product liability lawsuit.

Dolman Law Group has extensive experience helping clients across the nation who have suffered because of a company's negligence by vigorously representing injured clients. We will investigate your claim and help you seek the justice you deserve. The experienced AFFF firefighting foam lawyers at Dolman Law Group are proud to fight for victims by holding companies accountable for their negligence while seeking justice and the compensation they deserve.

Dolman Law Group offers a FREE, no-obligation consultation with a “no recovery, no fee” promise. If you believe you or a loved one has an AFFF fire fighting foam cancer case, call us at 833-552-7274 or fill out our online form.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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