Firefighting Foam Pollution

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) chemicals have been responsible for groundwater contamination near military bases and airfields across the country. Officials at locations finding this chemical in their water supplies often need to file lawsuits due to the financial expense of cleaning it up and the health implications for people in their communities.
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AFFFs were developed to fight flammable liquid fires. Researchers have traced these chemicals to groundwater contamination near many current and former military bases where foams were used. They have also been found at airfields throughout the U.S. (1) (2) (3)

Municipalities with contaminated sites should be aware of the potential for impact on their water supplies and the costs associated with cleanup. They may want to consider a lawsuit to recoup these cleanup costs.

Firefighter foaming the ground

Water Providers Impacted Around the Country

According to an analysis by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, more than 1,500 drinking water systems in the United States, serving up to 110 million people, may be contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, and similar chemicals. EWG has published an interactive map that identifies water providers around the country that have been impacted by these chemicals. Much of this contamination can be attributed to the use of AFFF. Removing these chemicals is costly, and water providers should not have to face these financial burdens.

Gavel and scale on table

AFFF Multidistrict litigation

Currently, there is a Multi-District Litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina that is handling cases from around the country that have been brought against AFFF manufacturers. Weitz & Luxenberg brought one of the first class action lawsuits on behalf of communities that have been exposed to AFFF chemicals in their drinking water. Weitz & Luxenberg currently represents communities and a public water provider that are being impacted by contamination. Weitz & Luxenberg attorney Nancy Christensen serves on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, the decision-making group for the plaintiffs.

Pennsylvania Class Action Litigation

In 2016, Weitz & Luxenberg launched the first class action lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of communities whose drinking waters were contaminated with chemicals found in certain AFFFs. The lawsuit alleges that six AFFF manufacturers knew the dangers the chemicals in their products posed but failed to warn the military.(4)

Our clients in this case either obtained their water from private wells or these municipal water providers:

  • Warminster Municipal Authority.
  • Horsham Water and Sewer Authority.
  • Warrington Water & Sewer Authority.

Defendants in the case include six companies that manufactured and sold AFFFs containing PFOS and PFOA to the U.S. military, which used them at two Pennsylvania bases.

  • Angus Fire.
  • Buckeye Fire Protection Company.
  • Chemguard.
  • National Foam.
  • 3M Company (formerly Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.).
  • Tyco Fire Products LP (successor to the Ansul company).
Used extinguisher

Bring AFFF Manufacturers to Justice

“The people of this country who live near military bases are being exposed to hazardous chemicals,” says Nancy Christensen, one of the W&L attorneys on the case from our Environmental, Toxic Torts, and Consumer Protection Practice Group. “They are suffering from health issues due to these chemicals that get into their water supplies.”

Ms. Christensen insists, “Companies who create products that harm others need to be held responsible for what they did.”

In our legal complaint, Weitz & Luxenberg points out that while contracts with the military required firefighting foam to meet certain military specifications, it “did not specify a particular chemical, such as PFOS or another Toxic Surfactant,” (5) and “[a]lternative designs of AFFF were available, technologically feasible and practical, and would have reduced or prevented the harm” to our clients. (6)

According to our complaint, training exercises at the Pennsylvania bases “resulted in acres of foam-covered soil and blanketed wreckages.” (7) The complaint also states that water testing at some wells around the former military bases showed PFOS levels were much higher than the health advisory levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (8)

Weitz & Luxenberg would like to hear from civilians and service members who worked or served at:

  • Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove.
  • Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster.

Communities and water suppliers in the affected areas are invited to join this litigation or discuss the possibility of initiating a separate one. Reach out to Weitz & Luxenberg with concerns about AFFF in your area for a free consultation to explore legal options with our experienced environmental attorneys.

Drinking Water Contaminated Near Military Bases

In a May 2019 article, Oliver Morrison of PublicSource.org, a nonprofit digital news service, said a recently released U.S. National Guard report confirmed toxic firefighting foam has contaminated surface and groundwater at two military bases near the Pittsburgh International Airport. The report indicated contamination has spread off base. (9)

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Morrison explains, “While it isn’t clear how far off base the PFAS contamination has spread…the chemicals often follow the path where water travels.” (10)

Morrison continues, “The amount of contamination detailed in the report is in line with contamination detected at military bases across the country. The U.S. military has spent more than $350 million identifying the extent of PFAS contamination and cleaning up military bases as of April 2019.” (11) (12)

Groundwater contamination spreading off base is not limited to Pennsylvania. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a research and education nonprofit. EWG claims PFAS chemical contamination has been identified at 106 military sites in the U.S. “where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, at levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health guidelines. But this is only the tip of the toxic iceberg that is largely hidden and still growing.” (13)

AFFFs Contain Man-Made Chemicals

The U.S. Army Public Health Center notes that AFFFs are just one of the many products that contain perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and/or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two chemicals in a group of man-made chemical compounds known as perfluorinated compounds. (14)

These chemicals contain “molecules [that] have been released to the environment through industrial manufacturing and through use and disposal of PFAS-containing products,” according to the EPA. (15)

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) says these chemicals “have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s.” (16)

PFOA and PFOS find their way into the water, air, and soil where they do not break down. In fact, they are considered persistent in the environment and remain in people’s bodies for quite a while. (17)

Clear water running out of faucet

Human Exposure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates people are “most likely” to be exposed through “drinking contaminated water sources, and possibly by using products that contain PFOA.” (18)

The EPA explains “potential exposure pathways include ingestion… or inhalation of PFAS particulate matter…” (19) The EPA adds that human exposure can come from water supplies associated with manufacturing locations, industrial “use or disposal” sites, and even airports. (20)

PFOS and PFOA have been found at and in:

  • Airplane crash sites.
  • Aircraft hangar fire suppression system.
  • Firefighting training activities.
  • Leaks from tanks or supply lines.
  • Sediment and water downstream of production facilities.
  • Sewage sludge and landfill leachate.
  • Wastewater treatment plant effluent. (21)

Firefighting Foam Is Dangerous to Your Health

The EPA warns, “The toxicity, mobility and bioaccumulation potential of PFOS and PFOA result in potential adverse effects on the environment and human health.” (22)

Adverse health effects include cancers such as:

  • Kidney cancer.
  • Testicular cancer. (23)

Other adverse effects are:

  • Thyroid disorders.
  • Immune system changes.
  • Increased liver enzymes.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Decreased vaccination response. (24) (25)

Health Risks to Pregnant Women and Infants

Some population groups are more sensitive to exposure. These include women of childbearing age and infants.

Women of childbearing age may experience pregnancy-induced:

  • Hypertension.
  • Preeclampsia. (26) (27) (28)

In fetuses and infants there may be developmental issues such as:

  • Accelerated puberty.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Skeletal variations. (29)

The EPA warns that PFOS and PFOA are “Readily absorbed after oral exposure… [and they] accumulate primarily in the blood serum, kidney and liver.”(30)

Scientist examining toxic water samples

PFOS and PFOA Health Advisory and Standards

“In May 2016, EPA established drinking water health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 micrograms per liter (μg/L)) for the combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA.” (31) EPA also advises water suppliers whose systems have reached higher levels than these advisory levels to “take steps to assess contamination, inform consumers and limit exposure.” (32)

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However, states have legislation in progress to set even lower standard levels. In 2018, New York proposed a maximum contaminant level (MCLP) of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 10 ppt for PFOS. (33)

In April 2020, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approved one of the nation’s strongest drinking water limits: 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. (34)

New Hampshire established health-based drinking water standards that include 12 ppt for PFOA and 15 ppt for PFOS. These standards are being challenged in court and their implementation is currently on hold. (35)

Maintaining PFOA and PFOS contaminants below acceptable levels comes at a high cost. Manufacturers that caused the numbers to rise, not communities or water suppliers, should shoulder.

Successful W&L Water Contamination Lawsuits

In 2008, Weitz & Luxenberg helped secure a $423 million settlement for the pollution of more than 150 public water systems by some of the nation’s largest oil companies. These companies knew that MTBE was a defective product that led to massive contamination and posed risks to health and the environment.

The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 was the largest oil disaster on record, sending 3.19 million barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting $18.7 billion settlement was the largest environmental damages award in U.S. history. Weitz & Luxenberg Chair of our Environmental, Toxic Torts, and Consumer Protection Practice Group, attorney Robin L. Greenwald, helped secure the compensation.

  1. Place, B.J. and Field, J.A. (2012, July 3). Identification of novel fluorochemicals in aqueous film-forming foams used by the US military. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22681548
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, March 29). Public Health. PFAS-Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, November). Fact Sheet. PFOA & PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf
  4. United States District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (2016, October 24). Bates, et al. v. The 3M Company, et al. Case No. 16-cv-04961-PBT.
  5. Ibid. (pg. 10).
  6. Ibid. (pg. 26).
  7. Ibid. (pg. 10).
  8. United States District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (2016, October 24). Bates, et al. v. The 3M Company, et al. Case No. 16-cv-04961-PBT.
  9. Morrison, O. PublicSource.org. (2019, May 26.) Report details PFAS contamination near Pittsburgh airport that ‘likely’ extends beyond military base boundaries. Retrieved from https://www.publicsource.org/report-details-pfas-contamination-near-pittsburgh-airport-that-extends-beyond-military-base-boundaries/
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center. (n.d.). Air Force Response to PFOS and PFOA. Retrieved from https://www.afcec.af.mil/WhatWeDo/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/
  13. Environmental Working Group. (2019, March 6). Mapping PFAS Chemical Contamination at 206 U.S. Military Sites. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/research/pfas-chemicals-contaminate-us-military-sites
  14. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, March 29). Public Health. PFAS-Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp
  15. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, November). Technical Fact Sheet— Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-12/documents/ffrrofactsheet_contaminants_pfos_pfoa_11-20-17_508_0.pdf
  16. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2017, August 22). Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/docs/pfas_fact_sheet.pdf
  17. Ibid.
  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Biomonitoring Program. (2017, April 7). Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Factsheet. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFOA_FactSheet.html
  19. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, November). Technical Fact Sheet— Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-12/documents/ffrrofactsheet_contaminants_pfos_pfoa_11-20-17_508_0.pdf
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid
  24. Ibid.
  25. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2017, August 22). Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/docs/pfas_fact_sheet.pdf
  26. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, November). Fact Sheet. PFOA & PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf
  27. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, November). Technical Fact Sheet— Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-12/documents/ffrrofactsheet_contaminants_pfos_pfoa_11-20-17_508_0.pdf
  28. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2017, August 22). Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/docs/pfas_fact_sheet.pdf
  29. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, November). Fact Sheet. PFOA & PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf
  30. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, November). Technical Fact Sheet— Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-12/documents/ffrrofactsheet_contaminants_pfos_pfoa_11-20-17_508_0.pdf
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. New York State Department of Health. (2018, December 18, 2018). Drinking Water Quality Council Recommends Nation's Most Protective Maximum Contaminant Levels for Three Unregulated Contaminants in Drinking Water. Retrieved from https://www.health.ny.gov/press/releases/2018/2018-12-18_drinking_water_quality_council_recommendations.htm
  34. Bagenstose, K. USA TODAY. (2020, April 7). New Jersey approves drinking water standards for toxic PFAS chemicals. Will legal battles follow? Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/04/07/new-jersey-approves-drinking-water-standards-toxic-pfas-chemicals/2963032001/
  35. New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. (2020, January 10). NH PFAS Investigation. Update on New Hampshire PFAS Drinking Water Standards (MCLs). Retrieved from https://www4.des.state.nh.us/nh-pfas-investigation/?p=1185

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