Why PFAS-Free Firefighting Foams Are Needed Now More Than Ever

For decades, aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were the industry standard for firefighting agencies and industrial emergency services worldwide. 

Their heat resistance and oil-repelling properties made AFFFs highly effective at rapidly suppressing liquid fuel fires. However, growing concerns over the environmental and potential health impacts of long-lasting PFAS chemicals have prompted a global shift towards fluorine-free fire fighting alternatives.

What Is PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called PFAS, are man-made chemicals that have been used for decades in a variety of commercial and industrial products. Since the 1940s, PFAS have been utilized to create nonstick coatings for cookware, water-resistant fabrics and carpets, stain-proof materials, firefighting foams, and grease-resistant coatings.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are the two PFAS that have been investigated the most. Other commonly researched PFAS include perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). While PFOA and PFOS production has been phased out in the United States, some other countries may still manufacture and use them.

PFAS have the potential to contaminate land, water, and air during manufacture and application. Due to their slow rate of breakdown, the majority of PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS, are very persistent in the natural world. Because of their lengthy usage and stability, PFAS have been detected in human and animal blood worldwide as well as in some foods and environmental samples. Certain PFAS have the ability to bioaccumulate in organisms with repeated exposure over time.

Why AFFF With PFAS Is Considered Hazardous

Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), especially those containing perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), pose toxicity risks that have led to their classification as hazardous. While small amounts of PFAS like PFOS and PFOA occur naturally in most Americans, chronic or long-term exposure can cause bioaccumulation and serious health impacts.

Animal studies show that PFOS and PFOA are toxic even at low levels. The EPA also found evidence linking these chemicals to various cancers in humans. Exposure to AFFF has been associated with increased risks of cancers such as prostate, testicular, kidney, and pancreatic. Other tied health issues include complications that endanger lives.

As per TorHoerman Law, the CDC, and ATSDR have designated PFAS a public health concern due to occupational hazards faced by firefighters, military, and chemical workers with AFFF exposure. Prolonged exposure may lead to long-term problems. As PFAS persists indefinitely in our world, continual research is crucial to understanding full environmental and health repercussions. 

This is why victims of exposure have pursued legal action through lawsuits such as the firefighter foam lawsuit to hold accountable parties responsible. Given PFAS toxicity and classification as a public threat, the hazardous view of AFFF containing these chemicals is justified. Further illumination of long-term impacts is still desirable.

A Milestone in PFAS-Free Firefighting

The U.S. Department of Defense recently took an important step by approving the first synthetic fluorine-free firefighting foam for inclusion on its Qualified Products List. This landmark foam holds the distinction of being the sole PFAS-free option currently available. 

It heralds beneficial environmental attributes by containing no intentionally added per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. 

Testing also indicates its performance meets or exceeds aqueous film-forming foams in key areas such as burn back resistance, drainage time, and expanding properties. Moreover, the synthetic foam is biodegradable and compatible with various equipment.

This qualification marks a turning point as the military transitions away from decades of relying on PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foams, or AFFF. These foams were mandated after a deadly 1967 shipboard fire.

 While the DoD no longer required AFFF use since 2019, performance standards and lack of proven alternatives meant it continued in many places. However, recent Congressional and regulatory changes are spurring a long overdue phaseout. Airports face similar pressures to transition under new guidelines affecting aviation.

As additional PFAS restrictions take effect across multiple jurisdictions, all industries would be wise to minimize potential liabilities and ensure compliance proactively. The approval of this groundbreaking firefighting foam underscores progress being made and opportunities available to transition to safer, equally effective alternatives. Continued innovation in this area remains important to address this legacy public health issue fully.

 

The approval of the first PFAS-free synthetic firefighting foam by the DoD marks an important step forward in addressing the widespread contamination caused by legacy PFAS-containing foams. 

 

As research continues to uncover more evidence of PFAS toxicity, a full transition to fluorine-free alternatives is needed now more than ever. Industries that utilize firefighting foams should accelerate their efforts to implement PFAS-free options to protect the environment and public health from further exposure. 

 

With proven alternatives now available, there are no longer any justifications for using hazardous PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foams. A complete phase-out of these legacy chemicals represents an opportunity to prevent future contamination and health risks, paving the way for a more sustainable future.