Multiple Suits Allege Toxic Tort Against AFFF and PPE Manufacturers

Forty-four current and former California firefighters have filed suit against chemical companies and PPE manufacturers claiming that they were exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and their turnout gear.

A total of three suits have been filed in recent months, two in Santa Clara County Superior Court and one in San Francisco County Superior Court. The suits name thirty defendants, including

  1. 3M COMPANY,
  2. E. I. DU PONT DE NEMOURS & CO.,
  3. THE CHEMOURS COMPANY L.L.C.,
  4. ARCHROMA U.S., INC.,
  5. ARKEMA, INC.,
  6. AGC CHEMICALS AMERICAS, INC.,
  7. DAIKIN AMERICA, INC.,
  8. DYNAX CORPORATION,
  9. JOHNSON CONTROLS, INC.,
  10. TYCO FIRE PRODUCTS, L.P.,
  11. CHEMGUARD, INC.,
  12. NATIONAL FOAM, INC.,
  13. CARRIER GLOBAL CORPORATION,
  14. KIDDE-FENWAL, INC.,
  15. PERIMETER SOLUTIONS, LP,
  16. FIRE SERVICE PLUS, INC.,
  17. BUCKEYE FIRE EQUIPMENT,
  18. AMEREX CORPORATION,
  19. MINE SAFETY APPLIANCE COMPANY LLC,
  20. GLOBE MANUFACTURING COMPANY LLC,
  21. LION GROUP, INC.,
  22. W. L. GORE & ASSOCIATES, INC.,
  23. TEN CATE PROTECTIVE FABRICS USA D/B/A SOUTHERN MILLS INC.,
  24. PBI PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS, INC.,
  25. HONEYWELL SAFETY PRODUCTS USA, INC.,
  26. STEDFAST USA, INC.,
  27. L.N. CURTIS & SONS,
  28. ALLSTAR FIRE EQUIPMENT,
  29. MALLORY SAFETY AND SUPPLY LLC,
  30. MUNICIPAL EMERGENCY SERVICES INC.

The suits allege that PFAS were manufactured, sold and distributed by the defendants, and that the plaintiff-firefighters have tested positive for PFAS in their blood. The firefighters are from San Jose, Santa Clara, Gilroy and San Francisco. Quoting from the complaints:

  • The Firefighter Plaintiffs wore turnouts and used Class B foam in the usual and normal course of performing their firefighting duties and training and were repeatedly exposed to PFAS in their workplace.
  • They did not know and, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, could not have known that these products contained PFAS or PFAS-containing materials.
  • They also did not know that PFAS was in their bodies and blood.
  • Defendants have each marketed, developed, distributed, sold, promoted, manufactured, released, or otherwise used PFAS chemicals in products, including in PFAS-containing turnout gear and Class B foam, throughout the United States and in California.
  • PFAS were first developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Soon after, 3M began manufacturing a PFAS material called perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”), selling it to other companies, including DuPont.
  • By the 1950s, PFAS were widely used in large-scale manufacturing.
  • Prior to this, PFAS had never been detected in nor were present in human blood or bodies.
  • In the 1960s, Class B foam containing PFAS entered the global market and became the primary firefighting foam all over the world with 3M as one of the largest manufacturers.
  • Defendants, including specifically 3M and DuPont, have long known about the serious and significant impacts to health caused by exposure to PFAS, having conducted study after study on the exposure and health effects of PFAS on animals, and in some cases, even on their own employees.
  • The findings of these studies were discussed within the companies internally, yet were never made public or shared with any regulatory agencies. Among the findings:
  • A 1950 3M study showed that PFAS could build up in the blood of mice and that PFAS could bind to proteins in human blood suggesting that PFAS would not only remain, but also persist and accumulate in the body of the exposed individuals with each additional exposure.
  • In 1961, a DuPont toxicologist warned that PFAS chemicals enlarge rat and rabbit livers.
  • A year later, these results were replicated in studies with dogs.
  • In 1963, 3M’s technical handbook classified PFAS as toxic and advised that “due care should be exercised in handling these materials.”
  • In 1970, a company that purchased 3M’s firefighting foam had to abandon a test of the product because all the fish died.
  • In the 1970s, DuPont discovered that there were high concentrations of PFOA in the blood samples of factory workers at DuPont’s Washington Works site.
  • By the end of the 1970s, studies performed by, at least 3M, indicated that PFAS materials were resistant to environmental degradation and would persist in the environment.
  • In 1981, 3M, which still supplied PFOA to DuPont and other corporations, found that ingestion of PFOA caused birth defects in rats.
  • 3M reported this information to DuPont. DuPont then tested the children of pregnant employees in their Teflon division and found that of seven births, two children had eye defects.
  • Defendants reassigned the female employees, but did not inform the EPA or make this information public.
  • In 1988, a company that purchased PFAS firefighting foam complained to 3M because the product was not biodegradable as 3M represented.
  • Subsequently, a 3M employee wrote an internal memo that “3M should stop perpetrating the myth that these fluorochemical surfactants are biodegradable, but the company continued to sell them.”
  • By at least the end of the 1980s, research performed by Defendants, including specifically, Defendants 3M and DuPont, manufacturing and/or using PFAS materials indicated that at least one such PFAS material, PFOA, caused testicular tumors in a chronic cancer study in rats, resulting in at least Defendant DuPont classifying such PFAS material internally as a confirmed animal carcinogen and possible human carcinogen.
  • In the 1990s, Defendant DuPont knew that PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals.
  • One study also suggested that PFOA exposure could cause possible DNA damage.
  • Another study of workers found a link between PFOA exposure and prostate cancer.

Here are copies of the three complaints.

I am tracking 18 PFAS cases (and I know that is but a fraction of the suits filed to date).

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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