The Role of AFFF in Increasing Cancer Risks Among Navy Personnel

The Role of AFFF in Increasing Cancer Risks Among Navy Personnel

The United States Navy and other military services have long relied on aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for firefighting. Known for its effectiveness in quickly extinguishing flammable liquid fires, AFFF has saved countless lives and assets.

However, recent studies and reports have unveiled a darker side to this seemingly miraculous substance: its potential role in increasing cancer risks. This article delves into aqueous film-forming foam’s history, composition, use, associated health risks, and implications for Navy personnel exposed to it.

The History and Use of AFFF

AFFF was developed in the 1960s as a highly effective firefighting agent, particularly suited for tackling fires involving flammable liquids. As stated by E.P. Fire, the American Naval Research Laboratory and 3M created aqueous film-forming foam and patented it in 1966.

In 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal caught fire, killing 134 people. An electrical failure caused a missile to be fired on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier. It struck the gasoline tank of another parked fighter plane.

The leaking gasoline caught fire, causing a chain reaction that ignited other planes, particularly munitions, which detonated. This tragedy taught us some important firefighting lessons.

Untrained firemen sprayed water to extinguish the fire with good intentions, but in the process, they destroyed the previously placed foam. As a result, the US Navy implemented aqueous film-forming foam as the standard foam concentrate on all its ships.

Chemical Composition and Health Concerns

The primary concern with aqueous film-forming foam lies in its chemical composition. AFFF comprises per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are synthetic compounds utilized in a variety of industrial and consumer goods. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two of the best-known and investigated PFAS compounds.

PFAS are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” since they do not degrade in the environment and can accumulate in the human body. This persistence raises significant health concerns for those exposed to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and aqueous film-forming foam.

According to TruLaw, the basic health problems associated with AFFF exposure are respiratory issues and skin irritation. Asthma, bronchitis, and some dermatological conditions were the most common problems. However, the per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances chemicals present in AFFF could also increase the risk of cancer.

Research has connected PFAS exposure to a variety of health issues, including cancer. The Lancet found that PFAS exposure is significantly connected with an elevated risk of thyroid cancer. It was found that those exposed to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances have a 56% increased thyroid cancer risk.

Another study mentioned by the University of Michigan found that PFAS exposure doubles the odds of cancer diagnosis in women. Even the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies PFOA and PFOS as Group 1 and Group 2B carcinogens, respectively.

For decades, aqueous film-forming foam was used extensively during training exercises, emergency responses, and even routine maintenance on naval ships. However, the widespread and repeated use of AFFF meant that Navy personnel were frequently exposed to the chemicals it contained.

This has led to numerous people filing lawsuits against the aqueous film-forming foam. Through an AFFF lawsuit Navy, these victims are trying to hold the manufacturers accountable for their actions. They claim that the manufacturers should have known about the potential health hazards and informed the users about the same. However, they prioritized their profits over the health of navy professionals and other users.

Exposure Pathways for Navy Personnel

Navy personnel can be exposed to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances through several pathways. In firefighting training and emergencies, the most direct route is inhalation or skin contact during aqueous film-forming foam. Additionally, PFAS can leach into groundwater and drinking water sources from sites where AFFF has been used, creating a secondary exposure risk.

One of the most concerning aspects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances exposure is its potential to affect those directly handling AFFF. Contaminated water supplies can expose various individuals, including non-military staff, family members, and even local communities near military installations.

Legal and Regulatory Responses

As the evidence of health risks associated with PFAS has mounted, so has the legal and regulatory response. Several lawsuits have been made against AFFF makers, saying that they were aware of the hazards of PFAS yet failed to warn users appropriately. These lawsuits have sought compensation for health care costs, environmental cleanup, and other damages.

Regulatory bodies have also begun to take action. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States has issued health recommendations regarding PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.

Some states and cities have implemented their regulations, with stricter limits on PFAS in water and banning it in firefighting foams. As High Country News mentions, San Francisco became the first major American city to ban PFAS in firefighter protective gear. The decision is in accordance with the statewide ban on using per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances in firefighting foam.

These regulatory changes have prompted the military to shift towards finding and implementing safer alternatives to aqueous film-forming foam. The Department of Defense (DoD) has funded research to create and test PFAS-free firefighting foams. Additionally, efforts are underway to remediate contaminated sites and reduce the environmental and health impacts of past aqueous film-forming foam use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Navy members at a higher risk?

Navy personnel often employ AFFF for training and emergency response, resulting in repeated and sustained exposure. This regular exposure increases their chance of acquiring PFAS-related health concerns, such as cancer.

What forms of cancer are linked to AFFF exposure?

Research has connected AFFF exposure to a variety of malignancies, including kidney, liver, and testicular cancer. Individuals who have been exposed to high amounts of PFAS are more likely to acquire certain cancers.

Are there any safeguards in place to protect Navy personnel?

The Navy has adopted safety standards to reduce AFFF exposure, such as wearing protective clothing and employing better handling techniques. Furthermore, there is continuing research and development of PFAS-free firefighting foams to lessen health hazards.

To summarize, the use of AFFF has undoubtedly played a crucial role in fire safety within the Navy. However, the emerging evidence of its potential health risks, particularly cancer, cannot be ignored. Understanding and addressing these risks is critical for ensuring the health of Navy personnel and their families. 

Through continued research, regulatory action, health monitoring, and the development of safer alternatives, we can mitigate the impact of AFFF-related PFAS exposure.

Spread the love

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *