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

4 Min Read

Firefighters use firefighting foam to extinguish large flame

U.S. veterans put their lives on the line to protect our country. But the tragic fact is that many military firefighters and other veterans may have been exposed to toxic substances during their service.

January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, and the Mesothelioma Veterans Center is joining the efforts by shedding light on the toxic substances military and civilian firefighters are exposed to.

One of the most dangerous toxins U.S. veterans and firefighters were exposed to is asbestos, a fiber-like material linked to a rare cancer called mesothelioma.

Did you know?

Firefighters are two times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population, according to a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Additionally, veterans make up 33% of all mesothelioma cases.

Another toxic substance was aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting foam that contains cancer-causing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

U.S. veterans never deserved to develop cancer from simply serving their country. Sadly, they 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 equipment more durable. At one point, a mandate required all U.S. Navy ships to use asbestos, and many bases, buildings, vehicles, and 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 as early as the 1930s but hid them to keep business booming.

Today, asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

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 exposed.

Additionally, military firefighters who respond to emergencies at older buildings may still be at risk as older structures often contain asbestos.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers veterans with mesothelioma free or low-cost medical care, monthly financial aid, and many other benefits.

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 U.S. 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

In an interview with Spotlight on America, 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 of AFFF.

"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 by October 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

Some U.S. veterans have been exposed to both asbestos and firefighting foam and may have questions about the toxins and related illnesses.

Learn the answers to 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 exposed to 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 used 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 some 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 can help pinpoint when, where, and how you were exposed. Call (877) 450-8973 now if you need help determining your exposure after being diagnosed with an AFFF or asbestos-related illness.

Help for Veterans With Cancer From Firefighting Foam or Asbestos

U.S. veterans who got sick from asbestos or firefighting foam deserve high-quality medical care and financial compensation.

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

We can connect veterans to:

  • Compensation from asbestos trust funds
  • Health care for mesothelioma
  • Legal assistance
  • VA benefits

You do not have to face the health impacts of these toxic exposures 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 January 2, 2024, from https://fox17.com/news/spotlight-on-america/toxic-firefighting-foam-newly-obtained-emails-show-military-knew-about-the-risk-for-years
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). “NIOSH Study of Firefighters Finds Increased Rates of Cancer.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from: https://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-10-17-13.html
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). “Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas
  4. House of Representatives. (2019). “NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2020.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://static.ewg.org/reports/2019/pfas-dod-timeline/2020_FY2020-NDAA.pdf
  5. International Association of Fire Fighters. (2022, January 11). “January Is Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.iaff.org/cancer-awareness-month/
  6. Keith, M. (2021). “Gas leaks, rodents, asbestos: 10 military families in Texas sued their landlord over unsafe living conditions in base housing.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.businessinsider.com/military-families-sue-landlord-over-unsafe-living-conditions-base-housing-2021-10
  7. Naval History and Heritage Command. (n.d.). “80-g-K-13860 Navy Firefighter Training.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, 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
  8. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). “PFAS - Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp