Firefighters use AFFF to fight fires that are difficult to suppress, particularly those involving flammable liquids and petroleum products. AFFF is effective at fire suppression but it makes use of a class of chemicals, PFAS, that can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans and harm the environment.
PFAS are called the “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and can accumulate over time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking closely at the effects of PFAS on public health and the environment.
PFAS legislation is evolving rapidly.
- Several states have passed legislation restricting use of firefighting foams containing PFAS.
- As of July 29, 2021, the EPA now includes PFAS-containing chemicals in its annual Toxic Release Inventory.
- The PFAS Action Act of 2021, a bill under consideration by the Congress, would designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). If this bill becomes law, many sites where chemicals containing PFAS are used could be deemed CERCLA sites, legally obligating responsible parties or the EPA to pay for and conduct cleanup.
PFAS in the news
The response to the massive Chemtool fire in Rockton, Illinois in June 2021 raised concern about the impact of foam containing PFAS on surface and ground water.
Is fluorine-free foam an alternative?
A 2020 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Evaluation of the Fire Protection Effectiveness of Fluorine Free Foams, found that a lot more foam at a greater gallon-per-minute rate was needed to extinguish the fires compared to AFFF. It also noted that the firefighting capabilities of fluorine-free foams varied by manufacturer.
The NFPA report concludes that fluorine-free foam is not currently a drop-in replacement for AFFF. Improvements in the foam testing protocols and the foam products themselves are still needed.
PFAS safety resources
Watch our video on the hidden dangers in firefighting foam and read our safety recommendations for responders to protect against exposure when using AFFF.
Also, check out the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council's AFFF Fact Sheet PDF on safety concerns, regulations and best management practices.
The fire service should only use AFFF when necessary, be prepared to conduct effective containment of AFFF when used, and stay informed about evolving federal and state legislation.
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