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Fire Suppressant Foam Exposed Veterans to Toxic Chemicals

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on September 13th, 2019

The Air Force has ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers that AFFF is highly toxic and the main cause of contaminated drinking water. Multiple studies found the firefighting foam likely carcinogenic and even an agreement between the EPA and the foam's main manufacturer to phase out the substances did not curtail the Air Force's usage.

When using the firefighter foam to put out fires, chemical components seep into soils and sediments and into groundwater that may be used as drinking water and stay there. Not long ago, Pentagon officials released for the first time a list of more than 126 military installations where it had found levels of cancer-causing chemicals higher than recommended in local water systems on military bases and surrounding communities, prompting a host of mitigation efforts.

Service members, military families and neighboring communities dealing with water contaminated by the firefighting chemicals worry that years of exposure to the perfluorinated-based firefighting foam may have already done long-term harm. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies PFOA as a class 2B carcinogen with particular regard to kidney, testicular and pancreatic cancers.

Lawmakers Seek Solutions for Regulating PFAS Compounds

In the 1970s, the Department of Defense (DoD) began using firefighting foam for training exercises and equipment testing that has also resulted in the discharge of large volumes of AFFF. Thus, as of 2014, there were over 600 current or former military fire training sites, all of which likely contaminated with toxic chemicals. At issue is the use of perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl substances - more commonly known as PFAS. Later, the Department of Defense recognized that the release of PFAS into the environment is a major source of groundwater contamination on military bases.

The plan proposed by the Senate is to stop using toxic firefighting foam in almost all training activities and ban them altogether over the next decade under legislation unveiled recently. PFAS-laden foam could only be used in an emergency fire situation, and only until fluorine-free firefighting agents can be found. House lawmakers require the military to stop buying the toxic PFAS-laden foam as early as October 1, 2022, and prohibit its use in military installations by October 1, 2023, with the exception of ocean-going vessels. The Senate bill would also require PFAS manufacturers and importers to provide data to the EPA about production volumes and exposure to the chemicals. By the end of this year, the agency will work to set enforceable limits on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances but how long it will take to protect people from the contaminants' harmful effects isn't clear yet. Until now, the EPA has publicly reported water tests that show levels of certain PFAS chemicals exceeding 70 parts per trillion. But many experts argue that this level is far too high - based on the project launched by the CDC new toxicology analysis of PFAS.

Health Care for Veterans Harmed by PFAS Chemicals

Members of the U.S. Senate and PFAS Task Force introduced legislation to ensure that veterans and their families exposed to PFAS chemicals at military installations get the health care services and benefits they need through the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA).

The veterans exposed to the toxic chemicals would require the VA to cover treatment for any health condition linked to the chemicals which were used in firefighting foams. Consequently, under this bill, veterans exposed to PFAS chemical contamination as a consequence of their public service are eligible for disability payments and medical treatment from the VA.

In order for any VA disability claim for service connection to be successful, veterans must provide evidence of:

  • A current diagnosis reported in medical records
  • An in-service event, injury or illness
  • A link between the veteran's current diagnosed disability and an in-service event, injury, or illness

Have You Been Affected by PFAS Contamination? We Are Ready To Stand Up For You

According to EPA, PFAS can be detected in the blood of most people exposed to the substances. Service members and veterans have begun asking the military for blood testing to determine the presence of such chemicals.

If you are a veteran exposed to toxic PFAS as a consequence of your public service, you are eligible for compensation from the VA or from a class-action lawsuit. These lawsuits include product liability claims for unsafe AFFF products, and failure to warn the State and users of their risks. The goal of the federal class-action suits is to hold massive corporations accountable for the harm they've caused and to help residents and veterans exposed to harmful PFAS receive the medical attention they need.

Following an AFFF claim, you will have sufficient evidence in your case that could also help you process your VA application quickly and favorably.