Aqueous Firefighting Foam and the Environment

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) due to its high content of PFAS (Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances).

Aqueous firefighting foam, also known as AFFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam), is a foam commonly used in firefighting operations to extinguish fires involving flammable liquids, such as gasoline or oil. While AFFF has proven to be effective in putting out fires, it has also been found to have some adverse properties that can harm the environment and human health.

How Does Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF) Work?

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a type of firefighting foam used primarily to extinguish and prevent flammable liquid fire re-ignition. It works by forming a vapor-sealing layer over the fuel surface, which smothers the fire and prevents it from re-igniting. The foam comprises foam concentrate, water, and air and is usually delivered to the fire through foam proportioning systems or handheld foam applicators. AFFF is used by firefighters, industrial fire departments, and military organizations to extinguish and prevent fires caused by flammable liquids such as gasoline, diesel fuel, and aviation fuel.

Why is AFFF so harmful?

One of the biggest concerns with AFFF is its high content of PFAS (Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), a class of man-made chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment and in the human body. PFAS can leach into the groundwater and contaminate drinking water sources, leading to long-term exposure and health effects such as the increased risk of cancer, liver damage, low birth weight, and decreased fertility.

Another issue with AFFF is its effect on wildlife and aquatic ecosystems. The foam contains chemicals that can harm fish and other marine animals, causing reproductive and developmental problems and disrupting the food chain. The foam can also affect the water quality, making it difficult for aquatic plants to grow and reducing the oxygen levels in the water.

In addition, AFFF can pose a risk to firefighting personnel and those living near firefighting training sites. The foam can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin, leading to potential health effects such as respiratory problems, liver damage, and endocrine disruption. Firefighters who use AFFF in their daily operations are at a higher risk of exposure and health problems.

Due to the adverse properties of AFFF, many communities and organizations are advocating for alternatives to be used in firefighting operations. One such alternative is protein foam, made from natural ingredients and biodegradable. This type of foam does not contain PFAS and is considered safer for the environment and human health.

While AFFF has proven to be an effective tool in putting out fires, its use has raised concerns about its impact on the environment and human health. Alternative firefighting foams, such as protein foam, are being developed and used to address these concerns and provide a safer option for firefighting operations.

What are PFAs?

Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in various industrial and consumer products due to their unique properties, including resistance to heat, water, and oil. The widespread use of PFASs has resulted in their overall presence in the environment and in human blood.

Prolonged exposure to Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) that contains PFAS can lead to serious health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, immune system disorders, decreased fertility, and hormonal imbalances. Firefighters, military personnel, and other workers who are regularly exposed to AFFF are at an increased risk, as well as communities near facilities that use AFFF.In humans, long-term exposure to PFASs has been linked to various health problems, including:

  1. Cancer: Studies have suggested a link between PFAS exposure and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and some other cancers.
  2. Liver damage: Some PFASs can cause liver toxicity and disrupt the normal functioning of the liver.
  3. Thyroid problems: PFASs can interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid, leading to hormonal imbalances and other health problems.
  4. .Immune system dysfunction: PFASs can weaken the immune system and make individuals more susceptible to infections and other health problems.
  5. Decreased fertility: Some PFASs can affect the hormonal balance in men and women, leading to reduced fertility.

In the environment, PFASs are persistent, meaning they do not break down easily. They can also be mobile, moving through soil and water, leading to drinking water and other water sources contamination. In addition, PFASs can be harmful to wildlife and aquatic life and can accumulate in the food chain, potentially causing harm to humans and other animals.Overall, the health and environmental risks associated with PFASs highlight the need for increased regulation and monitoring of these substances.

Is There Regulation Around PFAs?

The regulation of PFAs is primarily governed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The EPA sets drinking water standards for some PFAs, such as PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluoro octane sulfonic acid), and regulates their release into the environment through the Toxics Release Inventory.

In addition to federal regulations, some states have enacted laws addressing PFAs. For example, New York State has a PFAS Action Plan and a program to fund PFA contamination cleanup. New Jersey has a Drinking Water Quality Institute to study the health effects of PFAs and set standards for drinking water.

The cleanup of PFAs in contaminated sites is guided by the EPA's Superfund program, which provides funding and technical assistance for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. The EPA also has established cleanup goals for certain PFAs in soil and groundwater and has guidelinesfor assessing the potential health risks posed by PFA exposure.Several laws regulate the use, production, and cleanup of PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in different countries and regions. Here are some examples:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a drinking water health advisory for PFOS and PFOA.
  • The PFAS Action Act of 2019, signed into law in 2020, aims to regulate PFAS substances, require the EPA to set standards for drinking water, and encourage the development of alternatives.
  • Some states, such as New Jersey and Vermont, have enacted their own laws and regulations for PFAS.

Case History of AFFF

Several lawsuits have been related to the contamination of aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) and per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These cases typically involve claims against companies that manufactured or used the foam and alleged harm to human health or the environment due to PFAS exposure.

For example, a class action lawsuit was filed against 3M and other AFFF manufacturers, alleging that the companies knew about the dangers of PFAS but failed to warn customers and the public. The lawsuit also claims that the companies polluted the environment with PFAS and caused harm to the plaintiffs' health and property.

In addition, there have been several lawsuits by communities and states against AFFF manufacturers and users, alleging that PFAS from the foam contaminated water supplies, soil, and air, leading to harm to human health and the environment. Some of these cases have resulted in settlements, while others are still ongoing.

There have also been lawsuits filed by plaintiffs who worked with or lived near firefighting foam and claim to have suffered harm due to PFAS exposure. These cases typically involve claims for personal injury and medical expenses related to PFAS exposure.

It's worth noting that the legal landscape regarding PFAS and AFFF is rapidly evolving, and case law may change as more cases are brought to court. Additionally, the laws regulating PFAS and AFFF cleanup can vary between states and countries, and the regulations and standards governing PFAS may change over time.

What Can I Do If I Was Affected By Aqueous Firefighting Foam (AFFF)?

If you experienced adverse effects after being exposed to AFFF, you might be entitled to compensation. Submit a free claim review, and our team will help you determine your next steps and how you can seek justice.

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