Latest Updates in Firefighter Turnout Gear PFAS Lawsuits
As of November 2023, there was no ongoing multidistrict litigation for cancer cases linked to firefighter turnout gear. However, firefighters and other first responders have filed individual lawsuits against more than 40 gear manufacturers, including prominent names like 3M, BASF and DuPont, in courts across the U.S.
These lawsuits claim the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in protective turnout gear caused cancer in first responders. PFAS are commonly called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down.
A South Carolina law firm filed individual turnout gear lawsuits for over 130 firefighters and other first responders nationwide.
3M announced a tentative $10 billion settlement related to PFAS contamination from firefighting foam in an MDL in South Carolina. There were 6,400 actions still pending in the MDL as of November 2023.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) claiming that the organization required the use of PFAS to meet turnout gear testing standards.
In Massachusetts and New York, 19 firefighters filed two separate PFAS lawsuits naming 3M and 23 other gear manufacturers.
The increasing number of new turnout gear PFAS cases raises the possibility of consolidating these lawsuits into a federal MDL, which could streamline the legal process.
Why Are Firefighters Filing Lawsuits?
Firefighters and other first responders are filing turnout gear lawsuits because they claim the PFAS in the gear caused their cancer. They allege that gear manufacturers continued using the chemicals despite knowing about the cancer risks for years.
PFAS in Firefighting Gear
Turnout gear includes the protective, multilayered pants and coats firefighters wear when responding to calls. Manufacturers rely on PFAS in each layer to make the protective clothing oil- and water-resistant to prevent moisture-related burns.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame found “staggering” PFAS levels in the firefighting gear they tested. The 2020 study published in the Environmental Science & Technology Letter highlighted high levels of total fluorine (up to 2%) present in the fabric of firefighters’ protective clothing. New turnout gear had more PFAS than used gear.
The researchers also found PFAS in dust from a turnout gear storage area and concluded that the PFAS dust shed by the gear represents a “viable exposure source for firefighters.”
Does Firefighting Gear Cause Cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies show that people with certain types of cancer have higher levels of PFAS in their blood. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also listed perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the most heavily studied PFAS, as a possible human carcinogen since 2017.
Research has specifically linked PFAS exposure to higher cancer rates among firefighters. A 2022 study in Environmental Science & Technology found high levels of PFAS in the blood of over half of tested firefighters in Massachusetts. The same study found PFAS in gear could be transferred to their skin.
In recent years, cancer has surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters in the U.S., according to the IAFF. They estimate that 66% of firefighter deaths between 2002 and 2019 were because of cancer and that nearly three in four of the names added to the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in 2022 died of occupational cancer.
Do You Qualify For a Firefighter Turnout Gear Lawsuit?
Firefighters, paramedics and first responders diagnosed with specific medical conditions may be eligible to file a turnout gear lawsuit.
- Kidney (renal) cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
- Thyroid disease
- Ulcerative colitis
Families of firefighters, paramedics and first responders who died of these causes in the past three years may also be eligible to file a lawsuit.
How To File a PFAS Turnout Gear Lawsuit
If you are eligible to file a turnout gear lawsuit, the next step is to talk with a lawyer. Typically, an attorney or a law firm with experience in product liability cases can help determine your eligibility for a claim against turnout gear manufacturers.
A settlement can provide compensation and damages for lost wages, medical expenses and more. An attorney can also help families who have lost a loved one to cancer with a wrongful death lawsuit.
12 Cited Research Articles
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- United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (2023, November 16). MDL Statistics Report. Retrieved from https://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/sites/jpml/files/Pending_MDL_Dockets_By_Actions_Pending-November-16-2023.pdf
- Sabol, B. (2023, October 24). Exposure to “Forever Chemicals” in Firefighter Gear, Foam Prompt New Lawsuits. Retrieved from https://www.live5news.com/2023/10/24/exposure-forever-chemicals-firefighter-gear-foam-prompt-new-lawsuits/
- Casey, M. (2023, September 14). Firefighters Fear the Toxic Chemicals in Their Gear Could be Contributing to Cancer Cases. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/firefighters-cancer-pfas-turnout-gear-chemicals-868e4eb6af158e7a34fb229c2dd79ebf
- U.S. Fire Administration. (2023, May 11). New Information on Potential Carcinogens in Firefighter Gear. Retrieved from https://www.usfa.fema.gov/blog/carcinogens-in-firefighter-gear/
- National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2023, May 1). Researchers Pin Down PFAS Prevalence in Firefighter Gear. Retrieved from https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2023/05/researchers-pin-down-pfas-prevalence-firefighter-gear
- International Association of Fire Fighters. (2023, March 16). IAFF Files Lawsuit Against NFPA Over Gear Testing Standard. Retrieved from https://www.iaff.org/news/iaff-files-lawsuit-against-nfpa-to-remove-pfas-from-gear/
- International Association of Fire Fighters. (2023, February 12). PFAS and Fire Fighter Turnout Gear. Retrieved from https://www.iaff.org/pfas/
- Sieff, J. (2022, June 23). Gear Treated With “Forever Chemicals” Poses Risk to Firefighters. Retrieved from https://news.nd.edu/news/gear-treated-with-forever-chemicals-poses-risk-to-firefighters/
- Nilsson, S. et al. (2022, May). Biomonitoring of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Exposure in Firefighters: Study Design and Lessons Learned From Stakeholder and Participant Engagement. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35398800/
- Muensterman, D.J. et al. (2021, December 27). Disposition of Fluorine on New Firefighter Turnout Gear. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34961317/
- Peaslee, G.F. (2020, June 23). Another Pathway for Firefighter Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Firefighter Textiles. Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00410
- National Cancer Institute Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics. (2017). PFAS Exposure and Risk of Cancer. Retrieved from https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/what-we-study/pfas