pfas exposure firefighter legal perspective

PFAS Exposure Among Firefighters and the Irish Legal Perspective

PFAS Exposure Among Firefighters and the Irish Legal Perspective

In the line of duty, firefighters are hailed as heroes, braving flames to save lives and protect property. However, a less visible hazard lurks within their very means of combating fires—firefighting foam containing per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). 

Recent studies have highlighted a concerning link between exposure to PFAS and an increased risk of various cancers among firefighters, including testicular, kidney, and pancreatic cancer. 

This revelation has not only heightened health concerns within the firefighting community but has also paved the way for potential legal claims in Ireland, where the health risks of firefighters and the accountability of those responsible for their exposure are now under scrutiny.

Understanding PFAS and Their Impact

Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals prevalent in various consumer products and industries for their water and grease resistance properties. Firefighting foams, particularly those used in training and combating oil or gas fires, contain significant amounts of PFAS. These substances are not only persistent in the environment but also in the human body, leading to long-term health implications.

The link between PFAS exposure and cancer has been increasingly supported by scientific evidence. Firefighters, often in close contact with these chemicals, face a higher risk of developing testicular, kidney, and pancreatic cancers—diseases that not only threaten their lives but also impose a significant emotional and financial burden on their families.

The Irish Legal Framework on Occupational Health and Safety

In Ireland, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 governs the occupational health and safety of workers, including firefighters. Employers, including fire services, are mandated to ensure their employees’ safety, health, and welfare at work as far as is reasonably practicable. This includes assessing and mitigating risks associated with exposure to hazardous substances such as PFAS.

The discovery of PFAS-related health risks poses a significant challenge to this legal framework, highlighting the need for stringent enforcement and potentially, the revision of safety standards and practices within the firefighting profession.

Firefighters in Ireland, already at risk of PFAS exposure through firefighting foams, find their concerns mirrored in the recent revelation of massive PFAS soil contamination at Dublin Airport

This contamination, resulting from the long-term use of fire extinguisher foam, has necessitated the removal of 150,000 tonnes of soil. The scale of this operation and the potential impact on surrounding communities.

This situation underscores the urgent need for transparency and stringent safety measures to protect those at risk, including firefighters. It also emphasises the potential for legal claims under medical negligence or personal injury for those affected by PFAS exposure, whether through occupational hazards or environmental contamination.

Legal Recourse for Affected Firefighters in Ireland

Firefighters in Ireland who have developed cancer potentially linked to PFAS exposure may have grounds for legal claims under medical negligence or personal injury. 

These claims can be based on the failure of fire services or other responsible parties to adequately protect firefighters from the harmful effects of PFAS, including failure to provide appropriate protective equipment, failure to implement safer alternatives, or failure to inform and train firefighters about the risks associated with PFAS exposure.

Pursuing such claims requires navigating complex legal and medical terrains, emphasising the importance of specialised legal advice. Medical negligence specialists play a crucial role in advocating for the rights and welfare of affected firefighters, ensuring they receive the compensation and justice they deserve.

Advocacy, Regulation, and Support for PFAS Exposure

The issue of PFAS exposure among firefighters extends beyond individual legal claims, calling for systemic change in how fire services approach the use of firefighting foams and protect their personnel. 

Advocacy for stricter regulations on PFAS, investment in research for safer alternatives, and comprehensive health monitoring for firefighters are critical steps towards safeguarding their health and future.

Moreover, supporting affected firefighters and their families, both medically and legally, is paramount. This includes providing access to specialised healthcare, facilitating support groups, and ensuring they have the legal representation needed to navigate their claims successfully.

Summary

The link between PFAS exposure in firefighting foam and cancer underscores a pressing health concern that demands immediate attention from health authorities, legal experts, and the firefighting community in Ireland.

By addressing this issue head-on and introducing enhanced protective measures, legal recourse, and systemic change, we can ensure their safety and well-beingIf you or a family member has suffered as a result of PFAS Exposure, it is not always easy to know where to turn for the help you need. At M.M Halley & Son, we have extensive experience delivering sensitive, approachable and expert legal assistance. Contact us today to book a consultation.