Michigan Fire Departments to Regulate Use of Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS

Michigan legislatures passed a new bill into law that regulates the use and reporting of firefighting foam containing potentially toxic chemicals called PFAS. On July 8, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bills 4389 and 4390 into law, responding to the outbreak of drinking water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam.

Industrial chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made substances that are incredibly resistant to heat and oil. These chemicals have been added to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) since the 1940’s to help put out fires.

Firefighters in military, airport, and civilian departments have used firefighting foam containing PFAS for decades in both training and active use. However, recent research has linked exposure to PFAS to cancers, including prostate, ovarian, and testicular cancer.

From its active use and for firefighting training, toxic AFFF foam has been found to seep into areas and groundwater surrounding airports, military bases, and firefighting stations. Local wells across Michigan used for drinking water have tested positive for PFAS, especially those located near places that use firefighting foam.

One of the stipulations outlined in Michigan’s new firefighting foam law is that fire departments have 48 hours to tell state regulators if they used firefighting foam containing PFAS.

Gov. Witmer said by signing the bills, “we ensure any time a fire department uses firefighting foam that contains PFAS, the state is notified and the foam can be disposed of, so these forever chemicals don’t seep into our drinking water and needlessly harm Michiganders.”

Additionally, the bill calls for more firefighter training in how to handle PFAS-based foams. This means firefighters must be certified before using the toxic foam.

“The training in the past was more on the mechanism for delivering the foam and not as much on the health risks,” Jeff Yaroch, a state representative and former firefighter said. “When I was in the fire department, PFAS was not known to have all these health risks.”

Bill Proposes Firefighting Foam Phase-Out in the Defense Department

Recent legislation brought forward in the Senate calls for the defense department to phase out the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) by the military. This suggestion comes up amid recent health and environmental concerns that chemicals in AFFF foam cause cancer.

This new legislation was first brought up earlier in June by the Senate Armed Services Committee. In their 2021 fiscal year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the committee included new stipulations about addressing the growing health concerns of exposure to firefighting foam.

The NDAA lines out requirements for the Secretary of Defense to “conduct a survey and market research of available firefighting technologies or substances to facilitate the phase-out of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam.”

AFFF has been actively used by both military and civilian firefighters since the 1960’s. Currently, the military holds enormous stockpiles of firefighting foam on bases across the U.S.

However, growing numbers of military and civilian firefighters claim toxic chemicals in firefighting foam have caused them to develop severe health conditions, namely cancer.  

Class B firefighting foam, the kind used by the military, contains chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These are human-made chemicals designed to resist grease, oil, water, and heat.

Since the 1940’s PFAS have been added into firefighting foams to help battle oil-based fires. However, both the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection agency have found that PFAS build up inside of the body and never break down, increasing the risk of cancer.

Aware of the growing health concerns over PFAS, the Senate Armed Services Committee have included stipulations in the bill that increase spending for the CDC to assess the health risks of PFAS. This bill now awaits approval by the full Senate.

Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

A number of firefighting foam lawsuits across the nation claim AFFF has caused firefighters to develop severe cancer diagnoses. Individuals filing AFFF injury lawsuits say PFAS buildup caused cancer diagnoses including testicular, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.

Additionally, individuals living near military bases have found their water supplies were contaminated by PFAS. AFFF is used for both active use and training purposes, so toxic foam from training can settle into the areas surrounding military bases. Communities near military bases have found local drinking water contains high levels of PFAS from AFFF runoff.

Health officials say PFAS take thousands of years to break down, so they enter and stay in the environment and human body for a long time. Some U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS could likely be found in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.

The growing number of firefighting foam cancer lawsuits have been centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. These cases now await pretrial proceedings. If you were exposed to toxic firefighting foam, you may be entitled to compensation for your PFAS injuries. Claims brought forward in AFFF lawsuits say firefighting foam manufacturers knew of the health risks of PFAS for decades. Even with this knowledge, they failed to warn consumers about the health risks of PFAS in firefighting foam.

A manufacturer's failure to make sure their product is safe should not mean you have to suffer. Because of their negligence, you deserve compensation to help you heal and recover. If you were diagnosed with cancer after exposure to toxic firefighting foam, reach out to us today. We can connect you to the legal help you need to help you recover the cash award you deserve.

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