Former Fla. fire college employees sue firefighting suppressant manufacturers

The former employees allege the manufacturers knew about the adverse effects of their products since the 1970s but continued to sell them


By Katie Pohlman
Ocala Star-Banner

OCALA, Fla. — Six former employees of the Florida State Fire College and two of their spouses have filed a class-action lawsuit against manufacturers of firefighting suppressants used at the college, which they claim led them to develop various cancers and diseases from exposure.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleges the companies were negligent and purposefully hid findings of studies that showed chemicals in the suppressants were carcinogenic and dangerous to the environment. The former employees allege the manufacturers knew about the adverse effects of their products since the 1970s but continued to manufacture, advertise and sell the products to consumers.

Six former employees of the Florida State Fire College and two of their spouses have filed a class-action lawsuit against manufacturers of firefighting suppressants used at the college. (Photo/FSFC)
Six former employees of the Florida State Fire College and two of their spouses have filed a class-action lawsuit against manufacturers of firefighting suppressants used at the college. (Photo/FSFC)

Manufacturers listed on the suit number 10 in total and include The 3M Company and Tyco Fire Products, L.P.

"All of the Defendants are sophisticated and knowledgeable in the art and science of formulating (aqueous film-forming foam) products," the lawsuit states. "They understood far more about the properties of and the biodegradability of their additives than any other customer. They chose not to use their knowledge to design safer products."

Aqueous film-forming foam contains two chemicals — perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid — which are the main focus of the suit.

The Environmental Protection Agency describes them as man-made chemicals toxic to animals and humans that are readily absorbed after oral exposure and that are persistent in the environment, according to an agency fact sheet. In humans, the chemicals tend to accumulate in the blood plasma, kidney and liver.

They are used in firefighting to suppress fires that involve fuels such as petroleum and other flammable liquids.

Plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit include a firefighter instructor and various employees on the administrative side of the college who suffered from thyroid disease, kidney disease, breast cancer and parathyroid cancer, according to the lawsuit.

They claim the class they represent includes firefighters and instructors, administrative employees and others who may have been exposed to the chemicals through contaminated groundwater around the college, 11655 NW Gainesville Road. No specific number of class members is listed, but the lawsuit estimates it is in the hundreds.

Class members could have been exposed to the chemicals through consumption, inhalation or skin absorption. Plaintiffs formerly of the administrative side of the college claim they came in contact with the chemicals through their accumulation in the college's pipes, faucets, showerheads, appliances, sinks and drinking water fountains.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested wells at the college in August. In two of the three wells, which provide the college's water supply, officials found levels of the toxic chemicals in the water to be between 250,000 and 270,000 parts per trillion, more than 3,000 times higher than the EPA recommended 70 parts per trillion for drinking water.

Some class members may have been exposed but have not yet suffered health consequences. The lawsuit does not place a time period on when the chemicals were used at the college.

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and an award of damages totaling more than $5 million, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs also ask for the establishment of a medical monitoring program for class members who haven't presented illnesses yet, bankrolled by the manufacturers. The suit calls for various tests to be included in the program to monitor the thyroid function, liver function, screen for kidney cancer, testicular cancer and reproductive or infertility issues.

Plaintiffs also argue the manufacturers should be found negligent and grossly negligent for failing to adequately warn consumers of their product's dangerous effects, failing to place adequate warnings on the product's containers, failing to take reasonable precautions and steps to enforce a safe method of handling their products and failing to develop and utilize a safer substitute, according the suit.

The plaintiffs are represented by Miami-based Ferraro Law Firm.

Defendants have not filed any responses to the complaint yet, according to federal court records.

Copyright 2018 Ocala Star-Banner

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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