Firefighting foam has caused numerous airports to file civil lawsuits to recover damages and costs related to decades of use. U.S. District Richard M. Gergel presides over most of these lawsuits in the AFFF MDL. Judge Gergel is coordinating pretrial matters to prepare for settlement or trial. Airports filed claims relating to per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Airports contend aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) polluted airport property and groundwater because firefighting foam was employed to extinguish liquid fuel fires.
Firefighting Foam Pollutes Airports
Federal law requires airports to provide aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) services during operation. Airport fire-fighting personnel trained with firefighting foam containing two types of PFAS, PFOA or PFOS. For decades, FAA regulations mandated the discharge of firefighting foam in training exercises. This changed on January 17, 2018, when the FAA issued new guidance to assist airports seeking to manage environmental, liability, and community risks associated firefighting foam. The FAA announced that airport operators could begin using 3 new testing systems for fire-fighting equipment that do not involve dispensing foam. The public health risks associated with contamination of groundwater by PFAS drove the decision of the FFA.
Airport Response to Pollution
The National Academy of Sciences published a report recommending airport action to identify and cleanup firefighting foam pollution. “Use and Potential Impacts of AFFF Containing PFASs at Airports” (2017) provides the following:
- Immediately discontinue the use of older firefighting foam formulations.
- Immediately institute new training and systems testing methodology prohibiting the discharge of firefighting foam.
- Evaluate whether to file a claim against the manufacturers of AFFF for the significant costs of sampling and remediation.
- File Complaint to recover damages, including costs of environmental investigation and cleanup.
- Formulate a PFAS sampling and mitigation plan for airport property.
- Develop a remediation plan.
Presently, no nationwide agreement exists to settle with the manufactures of firefighting foam. However, airports filing suit against the manufactures and distributors of firefighting foam are in the best position to reach a settlement to recover funds necessary to test and cleanup airport property and groundwater. Lawsuits allow the parties to gather evidence in preparation for trial. Trials drive settlements. Therefore, attorneys representing airports recommend filing lawsuits to fund cleanups of airport property contaminated with PFAS.