Up to 110 Million Americans Could Be Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Tap Water

firefighting foam

A joint investigation conducted by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University, identified over 712 individual documented cases of contamination with toxic compounds, known as PFAS. Their findings add to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) investigation in August 2017, which determined 401 U.S. military sites were potentially contaminated.

Known as PFAS, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are dangerous chemicals used to make firefighting foam (known officially as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF). Shot out from wide-mouthed hoses, firefighting foam works by creating a thick, chemical blanket that smothers fires. The foam blocks oxygen from reaching the source of a fire — such as fuel — which can stop flames from growing out of control.

According to the investigation, 49 U.S. states contain sites potentially contaminated by PFAS. Especially troubling, is that many of the identified PFAS-contaminated sites are drinking water sources. Such contamination occurs when firefighting foam, after it has extinguished a fire, seeps into natural groundwater sources.

Assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Joseph Allen, noted, “These toxic chemicals are everywhere – even in your body. And they won’t ever go away.” PFASs are informally known as “forever chemicals,” and they do not naturally break down in the environment or the human body.

Even more nerve-wracking is the EWG’s estimation that up to 110 million American citizens might currently be drinking tap water that is PFAS-contaminated.

Firefighting Foam Puts Millions at Risk for Developing Cancer

While drinking water contamination, of course, remains a major pressing concern for Americans, it’s difficult to overlook the men and women who handle firefighting foam and are regularly exposed to PFASs, sometimes on a daily basis.

Firefighters are at an exceptionally high risk for developing diseases that have been linked with firefighting foam. Due to the foam’s effectiveness in putting out jet-fuel- and petroleum-based fires, it has been sold to fire departments and military bases across America for decades. U.S. military firefighters, especially those in the Navy, have been using the foam for approximately 60 years.

PFASs have such a long history of use with firefighting, that American airports, regulated by the Federal Airport Administration (FAA), mandated the requirement of firefighting foam until as recently as 2018.

The side effects of firefighting foam can be devastating.

PFAS exposure can cause multiple types of cancer:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer (colon and/or rectal cancer)
  • Kidney (renal) cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Neuroendocrine tumors
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer

Firefighters Are at Enormous Risk

All firefighters, but especially airport and military firefighters are at a higher risk of developing cancer as a result of their exposure to PFASs. In a recent series of studies conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it was determined that firefighters are at a 9% increased risk of a cancer diagnosis. The same studies found a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths compared to the general U.S. population.

None of this is right. Firefighters protect us from grave dangers – and they deserve to be protected in return.

In the wake of such devastating reports, some firefighters who have been harmed by PFASs are taking action against the companies who manufacture and sell firefighting foam.

Firefighting foam lawsuits allege that the companies who make the foam knew or should have known about the harmful human side effects and should have warned users accordingly.

Companies that have been named in firefighting foam lawsuits include:

  • 3M Company
  • DuPont
  • Tyco Fire Products LP
  • Chemguard, Inc.
  • Buckeye Fire Equipment Company
  • National Foam, Inc.
  • Kidde-Fenwal, Inc.

If you or someone you know is a firefighter, has been exposed to firefighting foam, and later developed kidney, testicular, or pancreatic cancer, you may be eligible to receive financial compensation for your disease.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: April 28, 2022

  1. CNBC, “A New Drinking Water Crisis Hits US Military Bases Across the Nation.” Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/12/new-drinking-water-crisis--stemming-from-us-military-bases-pfas-contamination.html. Accessed July 22, 2019.
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