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What is AFFF made of and why does it cause cancer?

Aqueous film-forming foam, commonly known as AFFF, has been used since 1970 to extinguish class B fires. Because it contains PFOS and PFOA, two groups of carcinogenic chemicals, exposure can lead to serious diseases over the years.

answered by Gregory A. Cade

What AFFF formulations contain?

For over 50 years, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for putting out dangerous fuel fires. AFFF is a synthetic mixture containing fluorinated and hydrocarbon-based surfactants mainly used in civil and military aviation, and oil industries. Fluorinated surfactants belong to the chemical group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are described below:

  • perfluorooctanoic acid - is not an intended ingredient in AFFF, but is a side product created during the manufacturing process;
  • perfluorooctane sulfonate - is a synthetic, fully fluorinated organic acid used in a variety of consumer products and generated as a degradation product of other perfluorinated compounds.

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, also known as PFOA, and perfluorooctanoic sulfonate, also known as PFOS, are well-known perfluoroalkyl substances, collectively referred to as PFAS and are the key components in a majority of AFFF.

Those who served as firefighters or on military bases are most commonly exposed to AFFF The United States Environmental Protection Agency has evidence that PFAS chemicals can accumulate in people’s bodies and the environment, posing threats to both.

Scientists are still determining the risk factors that can influence the development of cancer in people exposed to these firefighting foam chemicals. They believe the amount of danger a person is in depends on:

  • exposure levels
  • frequency of exposure
  • duration of exposure
  • general health

PFAS-containing foams can lead to the development of cancer

These chemicals induce tumors in laboratory animals, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies them as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on epidemiological evidence, and links exposure to the development of cancers such as:

Since 1970, AFFF has been used to extinguish class B fires by civilian and military firefighters, who are the demographic at the highest risk of developing a disease as a result of prolonged exposure. Class B fires refer to fires that stem from flammable liquids such as gasoline, petroleum greases, tars, oils, solvents, and alcohols.

Thereby, exposure to these dangerous chemicals can lead to the occurrence of a form of cancer over the course of several years.

If you suspect that your cancer or another medical condition was caused by exposure to AFFF, you may be entitled to compensation. While no amount of money can erase what has already happened to you, money can help pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

If you were exposed to PFOS and PFOA from AFFF, you are eligible for compensation

Firefighters and military personnel who were directly in contact with AFFF and subsequently developed a related disease are entitled to compensation from the responsible party. A lawyer who specializes in toxic exposure cases can help you recover the compensation you deserve by filing a lawsuit against the companies which manufactured the dangerous products you were exposed to. Because the legal process in toxic exposure cases is very complex, it requires keen insight and experience, thus, the assistance of a lawyer with vast experience is necessary.

After you provide them with your employment or military records, as well as with your medical records, they will promptly begin working on your case, while their legal experts will gather additional evidence to support your lawsuit. Eventually, you will receive fair compensation for your physical and emotional suffering.

Other related questions

The widespread public exposure to dangerous levels of PFAS chemicals has prompted the EPA’s release of a PFAS “Action Plan” in February 2019. The plan focused almost exclusively on the perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) the main precursors in AFFF.

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A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed with the help of a specialized attorney by the surviving family members of a victim of AFFF exposure.

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Disability compensation for exposure to AFFF is available only for firefighters who served in the military. However, civilian firefighters can also recover compensation by filing a lawsuit against the company which manufactured the product.

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If you were exposed to AFFF by living in close proximity to a military base, which used the product, you do not qualify for compensation, as only firefighters and military personnel can take legal action.

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Although the PFOS and PFOA in AFFF can be harmful to the human body in any amount, exposure needs to occur for several years for a person to develop cancer.

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Exposure to PFOS and PFOA, the toxic chemicals in AFFF, can lead to the development of multiple serious diseases over the years, including kidney cancer and bladder cancer.

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The most accurate method to determine whether you have been exposed to chemicals is environmental monitoring, which is done by measuring the concentration of a chemical in the air and the duration of exposure to it.

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AFFF has been used for the last 50 years to extinguish class B fires by both civilian and military firefighters, as it is very effective. However, it contains PFOS and PFOA, two groups of dangerous chemicals.

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The duration of the legal process in cases of AFFF exposure can range between several months to one year, depending on how many companies are responsible for your exposure, as well as on the severity of your diagnosis.

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There are over 1.1 million volunteer and career firefighters throughout the country, out of which approximately 20% develop cancer as a result of AFFF exposure.

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