U.S. Veterans at Risk of Cancer From Firefighting Foam and Asbestos

4 Min Read

Firefighters use firefighting foam to extinguish large flame

U.S. veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country. Unfortunately, many may have been exposed to toxic substances during their service.

One of the most dangerous toxins veterans were exposed to is asbestos, a fiber-like material linked to a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Another was aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting foam that contains dangerous perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are also linked to cancer.

U.S. veterans never deserved to develop cancer from simply serving their country. Sadly, veterans didn’t know that exposure to asbestos or AFFF could cause them to get sick as the risks were hidden for decades.

Thankfully, help is available for veterans to get the benefits and compensation they deserve.

Contact us today if you were exposed to asbestos or AFFF while serving and now have cancer. You may be able to access financial compensation.

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma Risks in Veterans

Between the 1930s and early 1980s, the U.S. military heavily relied on asbestos to make its assets more durable. At one point, a mandate required all U.S. Navy ships to use asbestos, and many bases, buildings, vehicles, and types of equipment also contained the substance.

The risks of asbestos weren’t well-known for much of this time. Makers of asbestos-containing products knew the dangers all the way back in the 1930s but hid them to keep business booming.

Today, asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma — and veterans make up 33% of all cases.

Besides mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can lead to:

Steps were taken to remove asbestos from military bases, ships, and vehicles in the 1970s and 1980s, but thousands had already been put at risk. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can help veterans with mesothelioma access medical care and financial aid.

We can help you get the VA benefits you need.
  • VA Disability Claims
  • Survivor Benefits
  • Finding Veteran Doctors

Help with VA Benefits

AFFF Linked to Cancer in Veterans

The military has used AFFF firefighting foam since the mid-1960s. While AFFF was thought to be safe, PFAS ingredients are now linked to increased risks of cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that PFAS are long-lasting and can build up in the human body over time, putting those exposed at a higher risk of cancer.

Exposure to PFAS-containing AFFF can cause:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Renal or kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Kevin Ferrara, a veteran who spent two decades putting out fires in the U.S. Air Force, said military personnel were not told of the dangers in an interview with Spotlight on America.

"We were told it was soap and water. We sprayed it up and down the flight lines, out of the training grounds. We sprayed kids during fire prevention visits. We didn’t think it was toxic. We thought it was safe.”

— Kevin Ferrara, Former U.S. Air Force Command Deputy Fire Chief

It was not until the mid-2010s that military use of AFFF began to slow. However, many veterans had already been put at risk. AFFF is still in use even today, but the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will prevent the military from using it after 2024.

Those who were exposed to PFAS-containing AFFF and later developed cancer may be eligible for compensation through an AFFF claim or VA benefits. Our team can help determine what resources you are eligible for — contact us today.

Differences Between Asbestos and Firefighting Foam Risks

Unfortunately, it is possible that service members could be exposed to both asbestos and firefighting foam. As a result, many veterans may have questions about the two toxic exposures and related illnesses.

Learn about some common questions below.

Can Firefighting Foam Cause Mesothelioma?

No, firefighting foam is not a cause of mesothelioma. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.

However, firefighters may have been put at risk of both asbestos and AFFF during their service because fires in older buildings could send asbestos particles flying into the air. Military fire stations, trucks, and fire suits may have also contained asbestos.

Are Firefighting Foam and Asbestos Still Used Today?

AFFF firefighting foam is still in use by the U.S. military today, but it’s being phased out due to the health risks.

Asbestos is no longer used by the military, but older ships, vehicles, and bases may still contain this dangerous substance. For example, military families on several Air Force bases filed a lawsuit in 2021 after complaining of asbestos and other toxins in military housing.

This can put many more at risk of developing serious illnesses from firefighting foam and asbestos.

How Do I Know If My Cancer Was Caused by AFFF or Asbestos?

You might not remember exactly how you were exposed to toxic chemicals if you served decades ago — and that’s okay.

Our team has a database of high-risk asbestos occupations and can help pinpoint where you were exposed. Call (877) 450-8973 now if you need help determining your exposure risk to AFFF and asbestos.

Help for Veterans With Cancer From Firefighting Foam or Asbestos

U.S. veterans that got sick from asbestos or firefighting foam deserve high-quality medical care and financial compensation. Thankfully, help is available.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center is standing by to assist veterans who have mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. We can also help veterans who are ailing after exposure to AFFF.

We can connect veterans to:

  • Health care for mesothelioma
  • Legal aid
  • Payouts from asbestos trust funds
  • VA benefits

You do not have to do this alone. Contact our team at (877) 450-8973 today.

Veterans Support Team
Mesothelioma Veterans Center PhotoWritten by:

Veterans Support Team

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center editorial team consists of experienced veterans, family members and medical professionals.

  1. Brauer, A., Nejman, A., & Sterman, J. (2021). “Toxic firefighting foam: Newly obtained emails show military knew about the risk for years. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://fox17.com/news/spotlight-on-america/toxic-firefighting-foam-newly-obtained-emails-show-military-knew-about-the-risk-for-years.
  2. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). “Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS.” Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas.
  3. House of Representatives. (2019). “NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2020.” Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://static.ewg.org/reports/2019/pfas-dod-timeline/2020_FY2020-NDAA.pdf
  4. Keith, M. (2021). “Gas leaks, rodents, asbestos: 10 military families in Texas sued their landlord over unsafe living conditions in base housing.” Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.businessinsider.com/military-families-sue-landlord-over-unsafe-living-conditions-base-housing-2021-10.
  5. Naval History and Heritage Command. (n.d.). “80-g-K-13860 Navy Firefighter Training.” Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/80-G-K-13000/80-G-K-13860.html
  6. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). “PFAS - Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp.