PFAS Fire Fighting Foam
PFAS fire fighting foam plays a crucial role in the fire protection industry, particularly in combating flammable liquid fires. However, it’s important to address the concerns surrounding the most effective foam, aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified PFAS as hazardous, prompting changes in the firefighting industry. PFAS exposure, PFAS contamination and the resulting PFAS health effects will be of primary concern. PFAS remediation services will be necessary nationwide for proper PFAS disposal.
History of PFAS
PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” encompass a group of synthetic compounds, including PFOA, PFOS, Gen X, and other fluorinated chemicals. These substances possess strong fluorine-carbon bonds, making them virtually indestructible.
Initially, PFAS was accidentally discovered by chemists at 3M and Dupont during an experiment aimed at creating a coating with water and oil repellent properties. The result was PFOA, the first PFAS compound. Subsequently, Dupont incorporated this chemical into their revolutionary product, “Teflon,” while 3M introduced their PFAS chemical, PFOS, branded as “Scotchgard.” In the 1960’s, the U.S. Navy received a patent for AFFF. Unfortunately, the very attributes that made Teflon and Scotchgard highly effective products also rendered them hazardous to both human health and the environment. PFAS exposure causes health concerns.
Understanding PFAS Dangers
One of the key PFAS dangers is their persistent nature. These chemicals do not degrade or break down over time, making them exceptionally long-lasting in the environment and within the human body. (Hence the name “forever chemicals”) This inherent persistence contributes to the significant risks posed by PFAS, and makes PSAF remediation difficult.
In addition to their non-biodegradability, PFAS can permeate various substances, including water, soil, and even concrete, leading to water system contamination. As a result, PFAS contamination continues, and accumulates in the environment, as well as in animals and humans. This is one of the many reasons for proper PSAF remediation. PFAS Contamination must be addressed promptly by a professional for PFAS firefighting foam disposal.
PFAS Health Effects
Due to the persistent nature of PFAS, these chemicals can accumulate in the human body, giving rise to various PFAS health concerns. Research suggests a potential link between PFAS exposure, specifically to PFOA and PFOS, and the following health issues:
- Low infant birth weights
- Liver and kidney effects
- Reproductive and developmental effects
- Thyroid hormone disruption
- Immunological effects
While the long-term effects of PFAS exposure are still being investigated, it is evident that these “forever chemicals” pose significant risks to human health and the environment. Consequently, the EPA and other American legislative bodies have initiated measures to address PFAS contamination by PFAS remediation to reduce PFAS health effects.
Both the American government and the EPA are actively seeking ways to minimize human exposure to PFAS with proper PFAS remediation. While regulations vary across states, several noteworthy actions have been taken:
- California banned PFAS in food packaging and paper straws and is set to prohibit the use of PFAS in firefighting foams by 2028.
- Connecticut will prohibit the sale of consumer packaging containing PFAS starting in 2024.
- Maine will ban the sale of cosmetics containing PFAS by 2030.
- Vermont has established a ban on PFAS in food packaging.
- Other states, including New Mexico and Minnesota, are in the process of passing similar bills.
Furthermore, several federal bills have been introduced in Congress to address PFAS regulation and standards. The PFAS Action Act of 2021 seeks to involve the EPA more directly in the regulation and cleanup of PFAS. The Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act introduced in the Senate, is expected to pass soon.
The Impact of PFAS Legislation on the Firefighting Industry
With increasing restrictions and potential bans on AFFF foam, facilities employing firefighting foam must prepare for the changes ahead. The need for alternative PFAS disposal solutions will continue to grow for PSAF remediation. There are currently a great many firefighter AFFF lawsuits in progress.
Turn to HazChem Environmental for your PFAS fire foam disposal needs.
Mitigating PFAS Contamination from Firefighting Foam
While regulations differ across states, there are some common approaches to reduce the use of and transition away from AFFF. For example, Michigan’s guidelines for Class B AFFF foam offer a middle ground that balances the interests of government authorities, fire protection officials, and environmental and groundwater experts. Key changes include:
- Limiting AFFF foam use to dire circumstances, such as hydrocarbon fires, alcohol-based product fires, and aviation accidents.
- Mandating the use of PFAS-free alternatives in all other situations, including fire safety training and fire protection system operations.
By adopting these guidelines, environmental exposure to significant amounts of PFAS contamination can be minimized while ensuring the safety of people and infrastructure during fire incidents with PFAS remediation and PFAS disposal.
Substituting PFAS Foam with Fluorine-Free Alternatives
In conjunction with firefighting foam products that adhere to the latest DoD fluorine-free foam standard, some states are introducing a provision that allows fire departments and other users to rely on an independent testing organization called the “Green Screen Certified” label to validate the absence of fluorine in a given firefighting foam product. Here’s a link to more comprehensive details and a comprehensive listing of labeled foam products.
Prior to procuring fluorine-free foam products, fire departments and other users are strongly advised to conduct a thorough examination to determine whether potential replacements are compatible with their existing storage tanks, piping systems, and delivery equipment. This assessment may also entail the need for new equipment acquisition.
Should any of the existing equipment be reused, it is imperative that it undergo a complete draining and cleaning process. Under no circumstances should fluorine-free foam products be allowed to mix with PFAS firefighting foam concentrate or any residual traces. Failure to adhere to this separation can lead to undesirable outcomes, including gel formation, equipment deterioration, and other problematic reactions, resulting in the contamination of the new foam with PFAS. It is essential to emphasize that distinct cleaning procedures are required due to the proven persistence of PFAS foams, which tend to leave residues and coatings on the interior surfaces of pipes and tanks. These residues cannot be effectively removed by mere draining or even a single rinsing process.
Fire Fighting Foam: In Conclusion
Firefighting foam is a critical tool in fire protection, but concerns over PFAS have prompted the exploration of alternative solutions. The persistence and potential health risks associated with PFAS and AFFF foam have led to significant legislation at both state and federal levels. The fire protection industry must adapt to these changes by preparing for restrictions and seeking PFAS-free options. By adhering to state guidelines and gradually transitioning away from AFFF foam, facilities can help reduce PFAS contamination and protect the environment and public health. Learn more about AFFF firefighting foam disposal.
For assistance with PFAS disposal / AFFF cleanup or AFFF disposal, please call HazChem Environmental at 640-458-1910 to speak to a live person. We are always open, 24/7/365.