Michael Sloane was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006. He served as a firefighter in the U.S. Navy from 1980 through 1983. During that time he was posted on board the USS Hunley, the USS Dale and the USS Thorn and at the U.S. Navy Firefighting school and the U.S. Naval Base Charleston. According to his lawsuit, all locations stored and/or used PFAS-based firefighter foams but he was never warned of the potential health risks. The lawsuit states:
“The descriptive labels and material safety data sheets for Defendants’ AFFF containing PFOA or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals utilized by the United States Navy firefighters did not reasonably or adequately describe the AFFF’s risks to human health...The Defendants knew or should have known of the hazards of AFFF containing PFOA and/or PFOS and/or their precursor chemicals when the products were manufactured.”
Defendants, Defense Department, U.S. Military and Navy Knew PFAS Danger
About 18 defendants are named in Sloane’s lawsuit, including Dupont and 3M Company. The latter manufactured, distributed, and sold fluorochemical products and AFFF from the 1960s until 2002.
The manufacturing industry first used PFAS chemicals in the 1940s when they were found resist heat, grease, stains, and water. And they haven’t gone away since the 40s– hence known as “forever chemicals”. PFAS has been linked to serious health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer—including testicular cancer.
There is plenty of evidence that 3M and Dupont knew about the risks of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and as the group Breast Cancer Action points out, “companies like 3M and DuPont shouldn’t profit from pinkwashing – putting pink ribbons on their products as a marketing ploy. These companies have known for decades that PFAS harms human health but hid that information from their employees and the general public.”
Jeff Hermes told The Intercept that industry and the U.S. military knew this was happening, but “never said anything to anybody… We had no idea.” Hermes was stationed at multiple Air Force bases between 1983 and 1989. In 2016 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A year later he applied for disability benefits but the VA denied his claim. “Their response has been: There is no proof scientifically or medically that PFAS was the cause of my cancer, even though my own oncologist wrote a letter stating that it was his belief that it was more likely than not that the exposure was a primary contributing factor,” Hermes told the Intercept.
What could a win for Michael Sloan and hundreds of similar firefighting cancer lawsuits mean for Jeff Hermes?
In August 2021 military.com reported that, according to a Pentagon audit, the Defense Department (DoD) knew the dangers of chemicals used in firefighting foams and elsewhere on military installations for five years before taking any action and “possibly exposing people and the environment to preventable risks.” The Pentagon task force began to study in July 2019 the health effects of PFAS and find a safer alternative to firefighting foams containing the chemicals. It has banned their use for training on military installations, although foam containing the chemicals is still used on ships and during emergencies.
A DoD Inspector General’s report dated July 22 states: The DoD's Emerging Chemical Program issued an alert to Pentagon leadership in 2011 on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS, highlighting the risks of exposure to DoD personnel, including firefighters and other employees. As a result of a bureaucratic glitch, however, the DoD was not required to take any actions to address the risks until 2016, allowing years to pass while troops continued to be exposed to PFAS-containing aqueous film forming foams, or AFFF, used in firefighting, and other industrial compounds. The DoD identified at least 650 active or former military bases where perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid may have been used or released into the environment.
READ MORE PFAS HEALTH RISKS LEGAL NEWS
Federal litigation is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where “bellwether” cases are expected to be prepared for early trial dates. If settlements or another resolution for the lawsuits is not reached following coordinated pretrial proceedings, however, hundreds of individual claims brought by firefighters and others may later be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate jury trials.