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Coffee break Bulletin

The hidden dangers in firefighting foam

Posted: Feb. 11, 2020

Learn how to protect yourself against exposure to dangerous chemical compounds found in firefighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) solutions.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of man-made chemical compounds found in a wide range of consumer products such as nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints and cleaning products. Two PFAS compounds, perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), may be present in firefighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) solutions.


Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. Long-term exposure to PFAS/PFOA/PFOS, in high concentrations, causes a buildup in the body. This buildup may have negative health effects like a risk of thyroid disease and testicular, kidney and bladder cancers.

Prevent exposure to dangerous chemicals in AFFF


Protection against exposure

PFAS/PFOA/PFOS may be orally ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through exposure in the atmosphere. Personnel at departments that use firefighting AFFFs with PFAS/PFOA/PFOS should practice the following controls to stay safe from exposure:

  • Replace older AFFF stocks with fluorine-free foam solutions.
  • Contain and manage AFFF and water runoff.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) whenever handling AFFF.
  • Properly remove and bag contaminated PPE prior to transporting.
  • Use cleaning wipes on your face, neck and hands immediately after exposure.
  • Clean contaminated PPE and SCBA before its next use.
  • Shower within one hour of returning to the station or home.

If you believe that you were exposed

See your occupational healthcare provider and document the PFAS/PFOA/PFOS exposure. Tell your provider about any concerns during your annual medical exam.

Further reading

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