OCALA – Though the number of plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging exposure to fire retardant chemicals caused people to develop cancer currently stands at eight, their attorney said a class action could increase the number of plaintiffs to hundreds.
“It is not just firefighters but others who have manifested injuries, and hundreds of people are being monitored, so we expect the class will grow,” Jim Ferraro, attorney for the plaintiffs and owner of the Ferraro Law Firm based in Miami, told the Florida Record.
Former employees of the Florida State Fire College in Ocala joined in a class suit against makers of fire retardant chemicals that includes 3M Co., Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard, a Dec. 26 report in the Tampa Bay Times said. The chemicals they produce are used in fire prevention across the country including airports, industrial sites and fire departments.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida alleges that the retardant makers sold their products knowing they were a toxic hazard to humans and could pollute ground water sources.
The plaintiffs contend exposure to the substances caused them develop a variety of illnesses including thyroid disease and kidney and breast cancer.
“The foam (fire retardant) can get into the ground water and you can come into contact with it by, for example washing your hands at the college,” Ferraro said. ,
According to the Tampa Bay Times report, the chemicals perfluorooctane (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are suspected as carcinogens and a potential cause of some types of cancer easily absorbed by the body.
Testing of wells at the college site by the Florida State Dept. of Environmental Protection in October revealed levels PSOF and POFA roughly 3,000 times higher than the advisable limit for drinking water. Well testing at neighboring sites, including a mining business, private home and a local fire station, also showed elevated levels.
A majority of the plaintiffs claim they came into contact with the chemicals through water at the college showers, appliances, sinks and drinking water fountains.
The case could be moved to an MDL (multidistrict litigation) court if it continues to grow, which Ferraro indicated is likely.
“This could become a case not just in Florida but all over the country,” he said. “The class action will grow into the hundreds (of plaintiffs) if not the thousands.”
The Fire College itself is not a party in the lawsuit.