Energy & Environment

Firefighters sue over ‘forever chemicals’ in gear

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Firefighters of New York City after the fire suppression of Manhattans Serbian Cathedral of Saint Sava at 25th and Broadway.

Hundreds of firefighters nationwide are suing over the health effects of exposure to so-called forever chemicals in materials and equipment they used on the job.

Most recently, more than a dozen firefighters in Massachusetts blame the chemicals for their developing cancer.

Fifteen current and retired firefighters in the state say that elevated levels of the chemicals in question — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — were discovered in their blood in December. The plaintiffs allege they were exposed to the chemicals through firefighting foam and “turnout” coats. All 15 plaintiffs currently have some form of cancer, which they blame on the PFAS exposure.

The lawsuit names 25 companies as defendants, alleging they manufactured, distributed or sold the products while knowing the health risks involved. Plaintiffs include major firms such as Carrier, DuPont and 3M.

“The Firefighter Plaintiffs wore turnouts and used and/or were exposed to 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,” the filing states. “At all relevant times and continuing to the present, Defendants have represented that their turnouts and Class B foams are safe.”

Elizabeth Pritzker, whose firm Pritzker Levine is handling the lawsuit, told The Hill the firm is in touch with attorneys in multidistrict litigation making similar allegations in a South Carolina court, and that it will likely eventually be folded into that suit. “Our ultimate goal is to clean up the industry,” she added.

The lawsuit comes as firefighters in Maryland have lobbied the state to join six others in banning the chemicals. In testimony to state lawmakers on Feb. 8, Grant Walker of the Maryland Professional Firefighters Association blamed PFAS in part for the number of cancer cases among firefighters. Cancer has overtaken cardiac events as the number one cause of death among firefighters in the last 20 years, according to WYPR.

“3M is proud of the many ways we apply science to create products that our customers rely on. We will continue to vigorously defend our record of responsible use of PFAS and environmental stewardship in ongoing litigation, including these cases,” a spokesperson for the company told The Hill.

“3M manufactures a variety of products that are specially engineered to perform in unique challenges firefighters face. However, 3M does not manufacture turnout gear worn by firefighters. 3M’s products are assessed to help assure their safety for their intended uses.”

The Hill has reached out to DuPont and Carrier for comment. 

Updated 2:13 p.m.

Tags Cancer Firefighters forever chemicals PFAS
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