Firefighter Gear Lawsuit | Turnout Gear Cancer Attorneys

Firefighter Turnout Gear Lawsuit Overview

Several groups of firefighters have filed lawsuits in state courts against 27 companies that manufacture the firefighter gear.

These companies include 3M and DuPont.

Firefighter Gear Lawsuit; Firefighter Turnout Gear Lawsuit

The firefighters allege that the suppressing foam and their turnout gear contain PFAS, a known cancer-causing toxin.

According to firefighter turnout gear lawsuits, 3M knew about PFAS toxicity as far back as 1950 and DuPont knew as far back as 1961 but continued to use PFAS in protective fire gear.

Table of Contents

Lawsuit Updates

  • February 2024 Updates:

    February 5th, 2024:

    The federal judge overseeing the case praised 3M Co.’s proposal to settle with public water systems for over $10.5 billion, addressing PFAS contamination concerns for approximately 12,000 public water systems. This settlement proposal could impact negotiations in AFFF lawsuits, where concerns about 3M’s potential bankruptcy due to PFAS claims loom large.

    February 2nd, 2024:

    In January, 279 new cases were added to the AFFF firefighting foam class action MDL, bringing the total pending cases to 6,994. Attorneys handling AFFF cases are expediting filings to strengthen their position for potential settlements.

  • January 2024 Updates:

    January 4th, 2024:

    The MDL judge has approved a joint motion to extend the deadline for parties to engage in discussions regarding an ongoing discovery dispute and a motion to compel. The new deadline for these discussions has been extended to January 31st.

  • December 2023 Updates:

    December 12th, 2023:

    In a recent development, AFFF lawyers have jointly filed a motion this morning, formalizing the Initial Personal Injury Bellwether Discovery Pool. This pool comprises twenty-five plaintiffs, with a breakdown of five individuals claiming kidney cancer, eight alleging testicular cancer, eight with claims of hypothyroidism/thyroid disease, and four asserting cases of ulcerative colitis.

    This procedural move is a crucial step in advancing AFFF personal injury and wrongful death trials through a bellwether discovery process. Of significance is the agreement among the parties to waive their Lexecon rights.

    December 6th, 2023:

    Judge Gergel is scrutinizing the existing AFFF lawsuits to understand the trajectory of the litigation and the extent of cancers linked to firefighting foam.

    In the AFFF class action, personal injury and wrongful death claims go beyond the court’s current review of four conditions. These include kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypothyroidism, and ulcerative colitis.

    To evaluate the validity of additional cases, Judge Gergel has mandated actions in the next 60 days. These include cataloging cases with diseases beyond the specified four, submitting relevant scientific studies, and organizing a ‘science day’ for experts to discuss the links between other diseases and exposure to AFFF-contaminated water.

    December 1st, 2023:

    Case Management Order #CMO 26B was issued in the AFFF firefighting foam MDL, streamlining the path to trial and a potential global settlement.

    The order focuses on selecting plaintiffs for the “Initial Personal Injury Bellwether Discovery Pool,” essential for understanding similar cases. By December 11, 2023, parties must submit a list, including lawyers, defendants, Lexecon waivers, injury details, and legal references. The court will choose 28 plaintiffs for the pool, initiating Tier 1 Discovery.

    AFFF lawyers will discuss discovery procedures and report back to the court next week, marking a significant step in the litigation process.

  • November 2023 Updates:

    November 17th, 2023:

    In the past month, 351 new cases have been added to the AFFF firefighting foam class action MDL, bringing the total number of pending cases to 6,400. Approximately half of these cases involve municipal water contamination claims that have been settled. The remaining cases consist of personal injury claims filed by individuals.

    November 1st, 2023:

    This month marks the selection of cases to be included in the bellwether discovery pool.

    Per Case Management Order 26A from last month, the parties have until November 14, 2023, to share their lists of proposed plaintiffs for potential inclusion as bellwether candidates. These selected plaintiffs will then undergo case-specific fact discovery, leading to the eventual choice of a few for the actual personal injury bellwether trials.

  • October 2023 Updates:

    October 24, 2023: 

    A recent study in eBioMedicine reveals a significant association between elevated levels of a specific PFAS, linear perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and an increased risk of thyroid cancer.

    The research reports a 56% higher likelihood of thyroid cancer diagnosis in individuals with higher linear PFOS concentrations.

    October 4th, 2023:

    The City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers, alleging the presence of these chemicals in the city’s well fields and well water, which residents rely on for drinking water.

    The lawsuit is now transitioning to federal court. Due to PFAS contamination, the city has had to close nearly half of its wells and anticipates over $20 million in repair costs.

  • September 2023 Updates:

    September 18, 2023:

    Judge Gergel recently communicated that the forthcoming bellwether cases will originate from four water utility lawsuits originating in towns across New Jersey, New York, California, and South Dakota.

    As claims against DuPont, 3M, and Chemours are temporarily suspended awaiting settlement approval, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs will shift their primary attention to unresolved cases involving companies such as Tyco, Daikin, and ACG Chemicals.

    September 8th, 2023:

    Telomer-based AFFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam) is a firefighting foam believed to have lower levels of PFAS chemicals. Due to this difference, the water contamination cases linked to Telomer AFFF were not part of the recent global settlement involving water providers. The initial Telomer bellwether trial is scheduled for August 2024. It raises the question of how, if at all, this trial might affect the timeline for the individual cancer cases within the AFFF MDL.

    September 1st, 2023:

    Plaintiffs’ lawyers recently submitted a letter to the judge containing information about an EPA Press Release. The release emphasized the immediate health concerns related to PFAS chemicals, which are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”

    The EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, Radhika Fox, highlighted the substantial health risks associated with prolonged exposure to PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS, which the EPA considers potential carcinogens with no established safe consumption levels.

  • August 2023 Updates:

    August 19, 2023: 

    Nearly 1,000 fresh cases have been incorporated into the AFFF firefighting foam class action MDL over the past two months. Consequently, the total count of plaintiffs within the AFFF MDL has surged to 5,614.

    It’s worth noting that a substantial portion of these cases pertains to water contamination and has already been effectively addressed through a recent comprehensive global settlement.

    August 15th, 2023:

    A recent law enacted in New Hampshire designates all forms of cancer among firefighters as a presumptive occupational disease, making it easier for them to access workers’ compensation.

    The law, signed by Governor Chris Sununu, addresses concerns about the occupational hazards firefighters face, including exposure to harmful chemicals and the stressful nature of their profession, with the aim of providing better support and protection for firefighters facing cancer diagnoses.

    August 1st, 2023:

    Judge Gergel approved an unopposed motion to replace the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit after the original Alabama plaintiff passed away. The deceased plaintiff’s daughter has now stepped in as the new plaintiff.

  • July 2023 Updates:

    July 1st, 2023:

    Tennessee has joined approximately 20 other states in suing manufacturers of PFAS, commonly known as “forever chemicals.”

    The state alleges that these companies were aware of the detrimental effects of their actions and products on Tennessee’s population and natural surroundings.

    July 17th, 2023:

    Over the past month, 493 new cases were transferred into the AFFF class action MDL, representing the highest monthly volume since the litigation’s inception.

    This surge follows the recent announcement of a global settlement for water contamination cases. Currently, there are more than 5,000 pending cases in the MDL; however, the breakdown between water contamination cases and cancer cases is unclear.

  • June 2023 Updates:

    June 18th, 2023:

    A recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has confirmed that “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, some of which are linked to cancer, are present in the textiles commonly used in firefighters’ turnout gear.

    In a study analyzing 20 gear samples, researchers identified between 1 and 17 types of PFAS in each sample, amounting to a total of 53 types.

    They found the outer layers of the turnout gear continued the highest concentrations of PFAS, while the lowest amount could be fond in the layer closest to the firefighter.

  • May 2023 Updates:

    May 1st, 2023:

    The judge orders the parties to submit selected deposition parts and a list of evidence for the upcoming trial.

    May 2nd, 2023:

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) publishes research revealing the presence of PFAS in firefighting equipment textiles, highlighting potential health risks and providing valuable data for the development of safer gear.

    May 7th, 2023:

    A hearing is scheduled to address objections and disputes related to trial exhibits in the first bellwether lawsuit of the firefighting foam class action MDL.

    May 9th, 2023:

    The defense files its final list of trial exhibits, trial brief, and deposition designations ahead of the upcoming bellwether trial.

    The court denies a defense motion for summary judgment, ensuring the jury will decide the majority of plaintiffs’ claims.

    May 12th, 2023:

    The first test trial in the firefighting foam class action MDL features the City of Stuart v. 3M Co., et al.

    The city alleges PFAS contamination of its water supply from the defendants’ firefighting foam products.

    The trial will address complex scientific evidence and could have significant implications for the litigation.

  • April 2023 Updates:

    Cases for the firefighting foam class action lawsuit are still ongoing.

    The intent is to remove the cancer causing products in protective firefighter gear permanently. Lawyers are currently preparing for the first trials related to this case.

  • March 2023 Updates:

    March 7th, 2023:

    A new AFFF firefighter lawsuit was filed in accordance with Case Management Order No. 3, issued by Judge Richard M. Gergel in South Carolina, which houses all federal AFFF suits.

    The plaintiff, a former firefighter in the US Marine Corps, alleges that exposure to fluorochemical products led to his diagnosis of prostate cancer and subsequent prostatectomy.

    His AFFF lawsuit asks that the case be transferred to the Southern District of Texas because the events or omissions leading to the claim occurred in Texas.

    March 16th, 2023:

    The firefighting foam class action MDL saw 354 new cases, bringing the total number of pending cases to 4,058.

    The increase in filings could be due to lawyers anticipating a settlement and trying to get cases filed before it happens.

    March 19th, 2023:

    The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Massachusetts state court, accusing them of requiring the use of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighter protective gear.

    The lawsuit alleges that the NFPA could have used other materials to protect firefighters from exposure to toxic chemicals but chose to use PFAS, which have been linked to severe health effects, including cancer.

    The IAFF is seeking to hold the NFPA liable for not removing the dangerous test from its standard.

What is turnout gear used by firefighters?

Bunker gear or turnout gear is the term used by many fire departments to refer to the protective clothing worn by firefighters.

The name “bunker gear” was derived from the fact that the pants and boots were traditionally kept by the firefighter’s bunk at the fire station and ready for use.

The average set of turnout gear weighs as much as 45 pounds.

This includes; helmets, gloves, hoods, boots, coats, and pants.

firefighter gear

Turnout gear is comprised of three distinct layers: the thermal liner, the moisture barrier, and the outer shell.

Each serves multiple specific functions:

  • The Thermal Liner – the most critical component of turnout gear because it has the largest impact on thermal protection and heat stress reduction. Together with the moisture barrier, these two layers account for up to 75% of the thermal protection of the firefighter.
  • The Moisture Barrier – provides resistance to water, chemicals, and viral agents. The moisture barrier is the most fragile of the turnout garment. It is most likely to be damaged and deteriorate with age.
  • The Outer Shell – the first line of defense against fire. The outer shell provides flame resistance and also protects firefighters from cuts and abrasions.

“Forever Chemicals” (PFAS) in Firefighter Gear

PFAS includes thousands of compounds that are known for their stability and water/heat resistance.

These compounds made for an ideal material to use in the uniforms of individuals putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the public from fire.

heat and water resistant chemicals

In June 2020, researcher Graham F. Peaslee at the University of Notre Dame, released a study that noted the exposure to PFAS through occupational exposure to aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) was not the only source of health hazards for firefighters.

Alarmingly, the materials closest to the firefighter’s skin appeared to gather more PFAS with age.

The study noted that PFAS are likely shedding from the moisture barrier and outer liner through use.

(PFAS) in Firefighter Gear

Career firefighters who wear this burnout gear for years with shift schedules between 10 hours and 24 hours per day for years wear their gear 75% of the time or sometimes more – with some firefighters noting they do sleep in their uniforms at night.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires all sets of turnout gear to be retired at or before 10 years of service.

More studies are needed to determine when gear begins to shed PFAS.

How are people exposed to PFAS?

Studies have shown that nearly 110 million Americans could be exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

Most people are not aware of this contamination because the levels of contamination fall below the so-called reporting levels of 10 to 90 parts per trillion, according to the Environmental Working Group.

However, it is only recently that studies have shown that exposure to PFAS through the skin could pose the same health hazards as ingesting the compound through water.

PFAS Moisture Barrier

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, mice exposed to four days of heavy exposure to PFAS through their skin harmed their antibodies and caused immunosuppressant issues.

Known as “forever chemicals” PFAS build up in our bodies and never break down.

According to Graham Peaslee, Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at Notre Dame, “PFAS chemicals gets in the bloodstream; it stays there and can accumulate in the body.

There are diseases that correlate with its presence, so we really don’t want this class of chemicals out there.”

Effort to Rid Fire Gear of PFAS Fails

The International Association of Fire Fighters represents 325,000 firefighters in North America (IAFF).

In the summer of 2021, the IAFF urged its member to support an amendment to the uniform standards set up by the National Fire Protection Association to protect firefighters.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a nonprofit, self-funded organization whose stated mission is to advocate for the elimination of death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

There are more than 50,000 individuals that are members of the organization and fund the research, training, education, and advocacy that protect the firefighters they represent.

NFPA 1971 requires a light degration resistance test for moisture barrier materials that would not be passed without the use of PFAS in the gear.

When NFPA Standard 1971 was written in 2006, firefighters were generally unaware of the existence of PFAS in the middle level of their uniforms.

In the summer of 2021, an amendment was proposed to correct the health hazards of using uniforms made from PFAS.

However, in September 2021, NFPA Council voted to keep PFAS in turnout gear.

NFPA is currently being reconsidered with committee reports posting in December 13, 2023.

Top Manufacturers of Firefighter Turnout Gear

Top manufacturers of firefighter turnout gear include, but are not limited to:

  • DuPont Personal Protection
  • TenCate
  • Honeywell First Responder Products
  • Lion Apparel
  • Globe Holding Company, LLC
  • Fire-Dex
  • W.L. Gore Associates, Incl
  • PBI Performance Products
  • Quacker Safety Products Corp

Firefighters Are at Higher Risk for Cancer Diagnosis

According to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firefighters are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer compared to the general public.

The CDC study looked at 19,309 male fire fighters who were first hired in 1950 or later and were employed for at least one year.

The study looked at the number of days the fire fighter worked, the number of fire-runs made, and the total time spent at fires in Chicago.

The study found that cancer is the leading cause of death in firefighters.

According to the study, the cancers of primary concern were:

  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • NHL
  • Mesothelioma

Additional cancer concerns include, but are not limited to:

  • Lung cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Esophagus cancer
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Breat cancer

St. Andre Particle Accelerator – 2020 Study

In 2018, Graham Peaslee, Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at Notre Dame, utilized a novel technique to study the presence of chemicals in a much faster method than used previously – the St. Andre Particle Accelerator.

Dr. Peaslee’s method got results in minutes which allowed him to test a lot of everyday items for the PFAS.

toxic firefighter gear

While testing everyday items, Diane Cotter, the wife of a healthy career firefighter who received a prostate cancer diagnosis, reached out to the professor asking him to study fire gear.

Dr. Peaslee noted that the used, new, and old gear was remarkably consistent in how it was fabricated and the levels of fluorine in each of the layers of the gear were startlingly high.

Dr. Peaslee and the Cotters have continued to advocate for change for firefighters.

Another 2020 peer-reviewed study showed firefighters have higher levels of PFAS in their blood serum.

In 2019, more than 75% of line-of-duty firefighter deaths were from occupational cancer.

Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) Products Liability Litigation MDL No. 2873

In 2018, the JPML formed a multidistrict litigation for AFFF cases and transferred all cases to U.S. District Court of South Carolina under the Honorable Richard Mark Gergel.

It is unknown at this time whether cases filed on behalf of individuals who believe their cancer was caused as a result of firefighter gear will be transferred to this same MDL or if they will remain in state courts across the country.

Is there a Firefighter Turnout Gear Class Action Lawsuit?

Currently, lawsuits against the manufacturers of firefighter turnout gear are being filed in state courts across the country on behalf of individual firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer.

It is unlikely there will be class actions filed on behalf of firefighters since each of these injuries needs to be considered individually.

PFAS Moisture Barrier

Preventative Measures – According to the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation

According to the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, here are the top prevantive measures:

  • Keep wearing the gear, unfortunately, there is no alternative to the gear yet.
  • Treat PPE with respect – use them for fires, but not for non-fire emergencies
  • Keep gear separate from your kids, out of the back of your car. Put PPE in a bag
  • Wash the gear before you wear it
  • Keep it separate from where you live in the house

Proactive Actions

  • Take action on revised amendment NFPA 1971, as you are being urged by the international association of fire fighters
  • Explore alternative PPE treatments that will produce similar benefits
  • Support studies to determine how much dermal absorption is occurring
  • Dust Analysis – PFAS degrade & become brittle

Legislative Actions

  • Take action on revised amendment NFPA 1971, as you are being urged by the international association of fire fighters
  • Push Congress to establish a First Responders PFAS Task Force
  • Mandate PPE companies to include % of PFAS used in PPE
  • Create a Maximum number to limit the PFAS allowed in PPE

In addition, if you are an active or retired fire fighter and are worried about your health, share this information with your doctor.

It is important that your doctor is kept aware of possible job-related health concerns

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Experienced Attorney & Legal SaaS CEO

With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three.  She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.

In 2009, Jessie co-founded her own law firm with her husband – which has scaled to over 30 employees since its conception.

In 2016, Jessie founded TruLaw, which allows her to collaborate with attorneys and legal experts across the United States on a daily basis. This hypervaluable network of experts is what enables her to share reliable legal information with her readers!

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