An Examination of the Occupational Health Risks in Emergency Response
Firefighter professionals work relentlessly every day to protect lives and property from the devastating effects of fires. Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting agent designed to combat flammable liquid fires, is widely employed in these high-risk scenarios.
While AFFF is a crucial tool in the firefighting arsenal, it harbors potential health risks. Most of these risks are linked to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in AFFF foam.
In this article, we will dive into firefighters’ occupational health risks. We will mainly focus on risks associated with using AFFF in firefighting scenarios.
AFFF: An Essential Firefighting Tool
AFFF has been a game-changer in the world of firefighting. This versatile firefighting foam is specifically designed to tackle flammable liquid fires, which can be challenging and dangerous to extinguish. NFPA notes that AFFF works by forming a film on the surface of the flammable liquid, effectively smothering the fire.
Its unique properties make it an essential tool for firefighters, military personnel, and emergency responders when dealing with fires involving flammable liquids. AFFF’s ability to quickly control such fires has saved countless lives and protected valuable resources, making it a vital asset in emergency response scenarios.
PFAS – The Hidden Danger
Beneath AFFF’s impressive firefighting capabilities hides a concealed menace – per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemical compounds, including PFOS and PFOA, are integral to AFFF’s ability to form a stable foam and extinguish fires.
However, using PFAS in AFFF has significant health concerns, particularly about human health. Recent studies have also revealed the potential ecological impact of PFAS, shedding light on their persistence in the environment.
According to Clean Water Action, federal action to stop using AFFF has been minor. However, states are setting the standard for regulating its usage. In 2018, Washington State led the way in limiting the usage of AFFF, with other states following suit.
Professions with a heightened risk of extended exposure to AFFF and its PFAS components cover various professions. This includes civilian and military firefighters, airport workers, chemical plant employees, and oil rig workers.
These dedicated professionals routinely encounter AFFF as a fundamental aspect of their job responsibilities. This increases their likelihood of PFAS exposure and the accompanying health hazards.
The challenges these individuals face extend to managing and mitigating the environmental implications of AFFF usage. Furthermore, contaminated sites near their workplaces can become long-term concerns for surrounding communities. This adds a layer of complexity to the issue.
The Lingering Threat
The risk associated with AFFF exposure extends beyond the immediate firefighting effort. PFAS compounds, a key component of AFFF, can accumulate in the body over time, leading to various health issues.
These potential consequences include liver damage, immune system disruptions, and an elevated risk of cancer. The longer the exposure and the higher the PFAS levels in the body, the greater the risk. This underscores the vulnerability of long-term professionals to these persistent health threats.
Legal Battles and Compensation
In response to the acknowledged health risks linked to AFFF and PFAS, numerous individuals and entities have initiated legal action against manufacturers. This includes major industry players such as 3M, DuPont, and Kidde-Fenwal.
These legal cases assert that these companies possessed knowledge of the dangers related to PFAS but failed to provide sufficient warnings to the public. TorHoerman Law notes that these legal battles underscore the importance of accountability and compensation for those adversely affected by AFFF exposure.
As of 2023, the legal battles about AFFF and PFAS exposure continue to evolve. Manufacturers like 3M have offered multi-billion-dollar settlements to resolve these intricate and far-reaching cases. As noted by AP News, 3M proposed a grand settlement of $10.3 billion earlier this year.
Nevertheless, numerous individuals suffering from AFFF foam cancer and other related illnesses continue their pursuit of justice with utmost determination. This ongoing litigation emphasizes the gravity of the issue and the significance of holding responsible parties accountable.
The Path to Greater Transparency
The revelations surrounding AFFF and PFAS have prompted a more extensive examination of safety protocols, regulations, and product development within the emergency response industry. The growing awareness of the risks associated with AFFF underscores the necessity for protective measures.
It also highlights the need for scientific research and legal action to safeguard the well-being of first responders. The industry will adapt, placing the safety of its dedicated professionals and the communities they protect at the forefront of its priorities.
The call for greater transparency, accountability, and proactive measures represents the way forward in the battle against the occupational health risks associated with AFFF.
The use of AFFF in firefighting presents significant occupational health risks due to the presence of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These risks affect many professionals, from firefighters to airport workers, with potential long-term health consequences and environmental implications.
Legal battles against manufacturers underscore the importance of accountability and compensation. This crisis has driven a call for greater transparency and heightened safety measures within the emergency response industry.
The ongoing pursuit of justice by those affected emphasizes the gravity of the issue. The industry must prioritize the well-being of its dedicated professionals and the communities they serve.