Boston Firefighters Say 3M, DuPont Hid PFAS Cancer Risk

A group of Boston-area firefighters accused 3M, DuPont and a host of other manufacturers of exposing them to cancer-causing compounds despite allegedly knowing for decades that the chemicals are dangerous.

The federal suit marks the latest legal issue for manufacturers and distributors of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a family of so-called forever chemicals linked with cancers, decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, and other health issues.

The plaintiffs, 15 current and former firefighters and one spouse, say exposure to PFAS in fire-suppressing foam and protective uniforms worn to incidents was a “substantial factor” in the firefighters later developing cancer. Many specifically cited prostate cancer, and most of the plaintiffs reported having “significantly elevated” levels of PFAS in December 2021 bloodwork.

When exposed to heat, PFAS degrade into “highly mobile and toxic particles and dust” that can be absorbed through skin contact, inhalation or accidental ingestion, and which can be spread to fire stations and firefighters’ homes.

The suit says that some manufacturers knew as far back as the 1960s that the chemicals break down very slowly and can cause health problems, but failed to alert the government or consumers, and instead created trade groups and turned to counsel to suppress that information.

The firefighters, who served between seven and 38 years at departments in Worcester, Norwood, Brockton, Fall River and Boston, are suing for alleged design defects, failure to warn, negligence and violation of Massachusetts business law.

The spouse-plaintiff, Jessica Ranahan, additionally asserts a claim for loss of consortium, claiming she was deprived of marital companionship during husband Daniel Ranahan’s treatment for and recovery from Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.

The suit lists 25 defendants that manufacture or distribute PFAS, fire-suppression foam and turnout gear — many of whom have been hit with similar suits in recent years.

In early February 2022, a New York federal judge granted final approval to a $65 million settlement that resolves claims that 3M Co. and Honeywell International Inc. — also a defendant in the firefighters’ suit — are responsible for PFAS water contamination that negatively affected hundreds of residents of the upstate village Hoosick Falls, New York.

Earlier this month, a New Jersey federal judge concluded several Garden Staters had adequately pled a connection between their injuries and PFAS-related pollution DuPont and other chemical powerhouses caused in southern New Jersey.

DuPont de Nemours, Corteva and the Chemours Co. — a defendant in the present suit — jointly committed $4 billion last year to cover liabilities arising from the use of PFAS, and agreed to pay $83 million to settle multidistrict litigation in Ohio over such pollutants.


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