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A Guide On PFAS Concerns Surrounding Firefighting Foam And Their Importance

Although PFAS is not a new issue, social media and other legal actions have raised public awareness of them in recent years. 

What is PFAS? 

The abbreviation for per and polyfluoroalkyl compounds is PFAS. Because the majority of these extensively used man made chemicals are made of substances that do not degrade in our environment, they are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS are present in a wide range of goods that people use on a daily basis, such as waterproof clothing, stain resistant clothing, non stick cookware, and cosmetics. 

As a result, they can be detected in drinking water, food, soil, and air.

A Guide On PFAS Concerns Surrounding Firefighting Foam And Their Importance

PFAS exposure has had detrimental impacts on people’s health, including an increased risk of certain cancers, lower fertility, developmental effects or delays in children, and more, despite the fact that these materials are great at their task of resisting heat, corrosion, oil, stains, grease, and water. 

It’s impossible to say how many of these health effects there are, and research is ongoing.

PFAS aren’t just in everyday products. Because they are present in firefighting foams, they pose a significant risk to fire suppression efforts and have detrimental effects on both the environment and human health.

What Type Of Foam Is AFFF?

The abbreviation for Aqueous Film Forming Foam is AFFF. A class B firefighting foam is called AFFF. 

Gasoline, oil, and jet fuel are examples of class B water non miscible flammable liquid fuels that can be put out by combining AFFF foam concentrate with water.

The synthetic firefighting foam known as AFFF is composed of fluorosurfactants and surfactants based on hydrocarbons (PFAS). 

The foam is given film forming properties by fluorosurfactants. To quickly spread across the fuel surface and lower the surface of the water tension, a thin film is formed. 

It will decrease combustible fumes and cut off air supplies, putting out the fire more quickly.

AR AFFF Is What Kind Of Foam? 

The abbreviation for Alcohol Resistant Aqueous Film Forming Foam is AR AFFF. A class B firefighting foam that works on polar solvent and hydrocarbon fires is called AR AFFF. 

Alcohol, ethanol, methanol, and acetone are examples of class B water miscible liquids that can be put out with AR AFFF foam concentration that has been diluted with water.

Synthetic firefighting foam AR AFFF is made of polymers, hydrocarbon surfactants, and fluoro surfactants (PFAS). 

Between the foam blanket and the burning surface, polymer creates a protective film that endows the AR with its properties. 

The polar solvent (fuel that is miscible with water) cannot break down foam in the AR AFFF foam blanket.

Is AFFF Banned?

Concerns surrounding the effects of fluorochemical-based firefighting foam compositions, including AFFF, AR AFFF, FP, or FFFP, on the environment and human health are developing. 

There may be effects of some PFAS on the environment and human health.

C8 long chain perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) or perluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was present in PFAS based foams. 

They do not spoil after usage and will survive in the environment indefinitely due to their persistence. They are recognized to have harmful impacts on health.

Worldwide restrictions on the usage of foams based on C8 have been in place since 2006. 

PFOS and its related compounds were included in the Stockholm Convention’s list of persistent organic pollutants (POP). 

The European Commission has imposed an additional limitation on the use of PFOA and its associated chemicals in 2017 under the REACH regulation.

These long chain foams made of PFAS are mostly being phased out. Currently, short chain C6 fluorosurfactants are used to make PFAS based foams; PFOS and PFOA are not present. 

Present day fluorotelomer based foams contain shorter chain PFAS molecules, which have a smaller effect.

Certain foams that contain PFAS are still in use, depending on the nation and the laws. 

AFFF and AR AFFF foams are among the PFAS based foams that are restricted or outlawed in several regions of the world. 

The usage of foams containing PFAS has been restricted in some states in recent years. More regulations are in the works. 

Numerous fire departments are investigating PFAS free alternatives and making the switch. 

There will be exceptions and a transitional period, but this trend will persist in the foreseeable future.

Besides PFAS based foams like AFFF and AR-AFFF, what else can you use in their place?

There are some alternatives to PFAS based firefighting foam that don’t include fluorine (F3).

Certain fluorine free foams provide burn back resistance and extinguishing capabilities that are on par with or better than those of AFFF or AR AFFF foams.

Eco friendly foams are those that don’t include fluorine. Safer substitutes that safeguard both human health and the environment are non fluorinated fire foams.

The majority of industrial and civil applications are covered by firefighting foams devoid of PFAS. 

The same international standards (ICAO, EN1568, UL162, IMO, etc.) apply to their approval.

Health Issues 

Firefighters are especially vulnerable to exposure given the known health risks associated with per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

This is because they utilize AFFF in both training and real fires, and PFAS is present in the personal protective equipment they use on the job.

The National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEH) is focusing on particular groupings of compounds first due to the large number of substances. 

To compare and contrast the health consequences that each group has on human health, scientists and researchers have been studying these groups. 

Furthermore, a great deal of study is being done to determine what causes and how PFAS ingestion affects crops.

Environmental Issues

The foam used to douse fires contains significant amounts of perfluoroocaustic acid (PFOA). 

These foams aid in forming a “blanket” that smothers the flames in order to put them out. Remaining AFFF from extinguishing fires may leak into the earth.

After PFAS chemicals are incorporated into the soil, they may be mobilized by subsequent precipitation events, which might expose individuals to streams that serve as a primary supply of water for many.

More data collecting, testing, and study are needed because PFAS are widely present. 

It is challenging to identify probable particular sources of PFAS chemicals due to their persistence in the environment and their extreme diversity.

How to tell if firefighting foam includes PFAS

Determining whether the AFFF you have includes PFAS might not be simple.  Since these chemicals aren’t currently regarded as hazardous substances, they don’t need to be listed on any safety data sheets (SDS).  

It’s also possible that PFAS isn’t mentioned in any lists of active components.  

Though not all fluorinated surfactants are composed of PFAS, references to fluorosurfactant, fluoroprotein, C6, or the use of “fluoro” are good signs that the foam contains PFAS.  

The best course of action is to take note of the foam’s brand and manufacturer, write to the company to inquire about the use of PFAS in the product’s manufacturing, and get an SDS.  

What Is Known And Unknown About Afff That Is Fluorine Free

The following conclusions and actions have been identified based on a review of firefighting foam performance standards, present and upcoming legislation, identification of fluorine free foams, other researchers working in this field, and literature:

1. To position fluorine free foams as safer substitutes for fluorinated foams, three primary information gaps must be addressed:

  • Performance data available now is either incomplete or ambiguous.
  • Since many of the elements in foams are protected as exclusive corporate information, their composition is incomplete.  
  • Concerns regarding whether or not firefighting foams are actually fluorine free have been voiced by many researchers and industry professionals.
  • The majority of fluorine free foams and their constituents have not had their ecotoxicity or effects on human health thoroughly studied.

2. Businesses are creating fluorine free foams, describing them, and evaluating their alternatives.  

3. The use of fluorine free foams by non military users, such as chemical producers, oil refineries, firefighting training facilities, and others, is not prohibited by any regulations. 

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