Amidst the evolving firefighting practices, the spotlight shines brightly on aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF).
As local, state, and national governments instate stringent regulations, the discourse around these foams has reached a fever pitch within the fire service. The ripple effect extends universally, as evidenced by even the US Navy’s mandate to adopt fluorine-free foam and transition by October 2024.
In light of these pivotal changes, it becomes imperative to comprehend the intricacies of firefighting foam and understand its consequences of AFFF.
What is AFFF?
Firefighting foam called aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), is commonly utilized to extinguish petroleum-based liquid fires. AFFF is often employed in shipboard fire suppression systems, onboard fire trucks, and during fire drills. This foam is purchased as a concentrate mixed with water in specified proportions, typically 3% or 6% foam solution.
AFFF comprises per- and poly-fluoroalkyl compounds. PFAS is a broad category of man-made compounds widely utilized since the 1950s. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a long-chain PFAS previously found in earlier AFFF stocks and can be produced as a byproduct of certain precursor compounds. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a long-chain PFAS.
PFOA is not an intended element in firefighting foam, although it can be produced accidentally during the production process. Numerous AFFF formulations unintentionally contain additional PFAS as byproducts that likewise raise health and environmental issues.
What Risks Does AFFF Pose?
The usage of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) raises serious issues due to the presence of PFAS. These substances have been linked to a variety of health problems, including problems with reproduction, increased cancer risk, and immune system deficiencies.
The widespread presence of PFAS in the environment has raised concerns globally, as they persist for extended periods without breaking down naturally.
AFFF is crucial in firefighting because it can swiftly smother liquid fires by forming an aqueous film that interrupts the oxygen supply. PFAS are integral to this firefighting capability because they resist heat and spread rapidly, aiding fire suppression.
However, the properties that make PFAS effective in AFFF also contribute to their persistence and potential for widespread environmental contamination.
The contamination primarily occurs during firefighting activities when AFFF is discharged and during testing and training exercises. Once in the environment, PFAS can easily infiltrate groundwater, persisting and accumulating over time, escalating exposure risks for humans and ecosystems.
Addressing the risks associated with AFFF necessitates a balance between ensuring firefighting effectiveness and mitigating the adverse environmental and health impacts caused by PFAS.
Efforts to find alternative firefighting methods or develop PFAS-free formulations while maintaining firefighting efficiency are critical in tackling this complex issue. Additionally, remediation strategies to manage and reduce existing PFAS contamination are imperative to safeguard human health and the environment.
Legal Retaliation Against AFFF Manufacturers
For decades, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) was widely used for oil fire suppression due to its effectiveness.
However, concerns arose regarding its chemical components, particularly per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While newer foams have replaced AFFF in many applications, some legacy stockpiles are still employed for emergencies.
PFAS are extremely persistent in the human body and environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 drinking water health advisory described lifetime exposure limits and raised health issue concerns.
According to TruLaw, studies show that PFAS can remain in the body for many years after exposure and potentially cause illnesses like different cancers and thyroid/liver diseases.
Many individuals allegedly exposed to AFFF have pursued legal recourse. Numerous lawsuits, such as the AFFF lawsuit by navy firefighters, have been filed against former AFFF manufacturers, including 3M, DuPont/Chemours, Tyco/Johnson Controls, and others.
The suits claim companies failed to provide adequate warning despite understanding PFAS health risks. Litigants seek medical monitoring, compensation for injuries, and other damages related to alleged negligence around PFAS product safety.
Alternatives to Firefighting Foam
#1 Fluorine-Free Foams (F3)
Fluorine-Free Foams (F3) are emerging as a promising and environmentally conscious alternative to Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF). These foams are formulated without fluorinated surfactants, reducing the risk of environmental contamination and associated health hazards linked to PFAS found in traditional firefighting foams.
One of the standout features of F3 foams is their ability to combat Class B effectively fires while maintaining commendable firefighting capabilities. Their performance in controlling and suppressing such fires has garnered attention and acclaim, leading to increased adoption by fire departments worldwide.
The shift toward F3 foams represents a significant step in promoting environmentally responsible firefighting practices. By mitigating reliance on PFAS-containing foams like AFFF, F3 demonstrates effectiveness in fire suppression and aligns with efforts to reduce environmental impact and potential health risks associated with PFAS contamination.
#2 Water Mist Systems
Water mist systems indeed exemplify an innovative and efficient approach to fire suppression by utilizing tiny water droplets. The small size of these droplets significantly enhances the surface area available for absorbing heat, resulting in highly effective firefighting capabilities.
The adaptability of water mist systems is one of its main advantages. Including Class A (common combustibles), Class B (flammable liquids), Class C (electrical fires), and Class K (cooking oil fires), they show efficacy in combating a broad variety of fire classifications. Their adaptability allows them to be deployed in various environments and fire scenarios.
These systems excel, particularly in enclosed spaces such as buildings, where their ability to rapidly reduce temperatures and displace oxygen aids in swiftly extinguishing fires. By depriving the fire of heat and oxygen, water mist systems contribute to the quick suppression of flames.
The precision and adaptability of water mist systems make them a valuable asset in firefighting. Their ability to efficiently tackle different types of fires, coupled with their effectiveness in enclosed spaces, positions them as a reliable and innovative method in the ongoing battle against fires.
#3 Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS)
Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) represent a clever amalgamation of water, foam concentrate, and air, creating a potent foam solution with impressive firefighting capabilities.
One of its standout features is the ability to produce a foam that is thicker and denser compared to conventional foam systems, ensuring more enduring fire suppression.
The versatility of CAFS is notable, as it demonstrates effectiveness against both Class A (ordinary combustibles) and Class B (flammable liquids) fires. Its reputation for swift cooling properties and exceptional adherence to surfaces has made it a preferred choice, particularly in structural firefighting scenarios.
The unique combination of qualities, such as thick and durable foam production, versatility in handling different fire classes, rapid cooling, and excellent surface adhesion, sets CAFS apart.
It is recognized as an advanced and efficient firefighting solution. Its integration marks a significant advancement in firefighting techniques, offering a valuable tool for fire departments to combat various types of fires effectively.
The use of AFFF has resulted in widespread environmental contamination and significant health concerns. While important for effectively fighting petroleum fires, the risks of PFAS exposure require alternative solutions.
Fluorine-free foams show promising firefighting performance without PFAS, and innovative techniques like water mist systems and compressed air foam provide versatile options.
Moving forward, fire departments need equipment and practices that maintain response effectiveness while mitigating health and environmental hazards. Reducing PFAS use, cleaning contaminated sites, and supporting injured individuals will help address AFFF impacts.