Firefighters have a higher rate of cancer than those in other professions. A few years ago, a multi-year study of 30,000 firefighters was started by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to look at the incidence of cancers among firefighters. It found that more cases of bladder and prostate cancers were found in younger firefighters than expected.
In the past, much of the research into this phenomenon has been focused on smoke as a possible cause. However, today researchers are looking at another potential cause. Perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are present in fire suppressing foams used by firefighters to contain fires. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a water repellant PFAS. It is used to make protective clothing, called turnout gear, for firefighters.
Concerns about PFAS, and specifically PFOA, as a potential carcinogen have been rising over time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a fact sheet to physicians warning them that increases in prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers were found in workers exposed to PFAS and people living near a PFOA manufacturing site.
PFOA has now been phased out of domestic manufacturing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is also developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA.
When a firefighter was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, his wife sought answers. Acting on a hunch, she sent samples of her husband’s turnout gear to a lab. Results came back with a high level of PFAS. Meanwhile, a professor at the University of Notre Dame had a similar suspicion. He tested fabric swatches from unused turnout gear for fluorine, a component of PFAS. It was present in all but one of the samples. He is now conducting further studies on gear issued throughout the 2000s.
The studies will examine unused gear, gear that has been used extensively, and gear that has been washed to see if the fluorine content of the fabric and the wash water change over time.
One of the biggest makers of turnout gear is DuPont. The company studied PFOA in the 1990s. Some of its scientists published a paper about the potential connection between PFOA and testicular and pancreatic tumors. In 2006, DuPont issued a shareholder’s report noting that PFOA accounted for a significant part of their business and that regulating the compound could pose a significant financial burden to the company. DuPont has recently stated that it no longer makes, uses, or buys PFOA, and cannot comment on these materials.
Nearly 20 years ago, an environmental attorney successfully sued a chemical manufacturer in a toxic tort case where PFOA contaminated water in West Virginia. Recently, that attorney sent a letter to federal authorities, including the EPA and the U.S. Attorney General’s office, demanding national tests be conducted on firefighters exposed to PFOA. Some states have chosen not to wait to try to protect firefighters. Washington State has banned PFOA from being used in firefighting foam and requires fire gear made with it to add a warning label.
If you have developed cancer or another disease, and believe a chemical exposure is responsible, our toxic tort firm may be able to help. Call us today at 302-656-5445 or complete our online form to reach one of our experienced Georgetown toxic tort lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. for a free initial consultation. With offices in Georgetown and Wilmington, Delaware, we represent clients throughout the state.