For decades, military firefighters have bravely faced the flames, putting their lives on the line to protect others. While their courage is undeniable, recent studies reveal a stark reality. These heroes face a hidden enemy – cancer, potentially linked to their exposure to hazardous chemicals used in firefighting foam.
The Guardian reported that firefighters are more than three times as likely to die from specific cancers than the general population. Rates of prostate cancer, leukemia, and esophageal cancer were particularly elevated, with firefighters facing 3.8, 3.2, and 2.4 times the respective risks.
This highlights the need to understand the link between AFFF, a firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals, and cancer in firefighters.
This article delves deeper into this critical issue. It explores the evidence connecting AFFF exposure to various cancers and the legal implications for manufacturers.
Overview of AFFF and Its Historical Use
Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) traces its roots back to the collaboration between the US Navy Research Lab and the 3M chemical corporation in 1966. According to The Bibb Voice, this foam swiftly emerged as a potent tool for extinguishing petrol fuel fires. This was due to its unique ability to form a smothering film.
By the early 1970s, AFFF had become a standard feature on military bases, civilian airports, and firehouses across the country.
The flame-suppressant prowess of AFFF can be attributed to the inclusion of per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its formulation. PFAS are synthetic compounds colloquially known as ‘forever chemicals’ for their enduring molecular bonds that resist natural decay.
However, the use of AFFF has been subject to controversy. Internal documents spanning decades suggest a lack of disclosure regarding its potential health hazards. Research reveals that PFAS are responsible for elevated cancer risks, hormonal disruptions, and compromised immune responses in children.
Firefighting Practices in the Military
For decades, AFFF has been the mainstay of military firefighting practices. It served as a powerful and versatile tool in both training exercises and emergency response situations.
However, the widespread use of AFFF came at a hidden cost. The Wisconsin Examiner sheds light on the experiences of U.S. military firefighter Kurt Rhodes, who dedicated 32 years to the profession, relying on AFFF. Rhodes highlights that many firefighters, unaware of the potential health risks, were unknowingly exposed to PFAS present in the foam.
The extensive use of AFFF has left its mark on over 700 active and former military installations across the United States. Additionally, the contamination extends beyond military bases, potentially exposing millions of citizens to the health risks associated with the exposure.
Legal Actions Taken by Military Firefighters
Military firefighters, particularly those in the Navy, have been at the forefront of exposure to AFFF. This is due to its extensive use in extinguishing aircraft fires and containing flames near fueling operations.
Recognizing the potential dangers, military personnel are taking legal action against AFFF manufacturers. They seek compensation and accountability for health problems linked to their exposure.
One significant case is the AFFF lawsuit by Navy veterans. Navy personnel allege that they were not warned about the risks of AFFF. They thereby hold the AFFF manufacturers responsible for their various health issues, including cancer.
TruLaw emphasizes that this lawsuit underscores the growing awareness about PFAS exposure and its potential health risks. These legal actions signify a pivotal stride towards making manufacturers answerable for their failure to forewarn personnel about the dangers of AFFF.
Regulatory Responses to the Concern
The response of government agencies to the escalating concerns surrounding cancer in military firefighters has prompted regulatory changes and guidelines.
According to Pasadena Weekly, the case of Michael Lecik, a former U.S. Air Force firefighter, serves as a poignant illustration of the need for regulatory intervention. Despite his benzene exposure risk during firefighting duties, Lecik faced VA denial of disability compensation and tragically succumbed to cancer in 2021.
In response to such instances, Rep. Abigail Spanberger introduced the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act in 2020. This proposed legislation seeks to establish presumptions of service connection for diseases associated with firefighting in military firefighters.
It encompasses conditions like multiple myeloma, heart disease, kidney cancer, and lung cancer. If enacted, the bill would compel the VA to recognize the correlation between firefighting and these diseases. It will provide essential benefits to eligible veterans with a minimum of five years of service in firefighting roles.
In conclusion, the intertwining narratives of AFFF and military firefighters unfold a troubling story that transcends the heroism associated with firefighting. From its inception to its widespread use on naval bases and beyond, AFFF has proven to be a double-edged sword. It has simultaneously offered invaluable fire-suppression capabilities and harbored hidden health risks.
As we navigate this intricate landscape, it is evident that a comprehensive approach is essential. Balancing the need for effective firefighting tools with safeguarding those who protect us requires continual scrutiny and reform.
The journey toward justice and enhanced safety emphasizes the imperative to learn from the past and fortify a safer, healthier future.