Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) is a firefighting suppressant which is mostly used by firefighters, military personnel, and at airports for commercial use. For over 50 years, AFFF has been effectively used to fight petroleum-based fires.
How Is AFFF Contaminating the Water?
AFFF gets into the environment once the firefighting foam is discharged and released during use and due to spills and leaks which occur in AFFF storage locations. AFFF can contaminate the soil, surface water, and groundwater and the residual materials can enter drain systems and discharge to remote locations.
AFFF contains the chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) which are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS is referred to as a “forever chemical” because the elemental bonds of fluorine and carbon are extremely strong and difficult to break down in the environment and in our bodies. This means that the carcinogens in AFFF when consumed by people, stay in the body for a very long period of time.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has also begun warning veterans about the increased risks of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer after being exposed to the fire-fighting foam in military facilities.
Timothy Putnam, the Vice-President of the Tidewater Federal Fire Fighters and a member of the International Association of Firefighters, spoke to the U.S. Senate about this chemical crisis. In this statement, Putnam cites animal testing, human exposure, and research done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to link exposure to this firefighting foam to testicular and kidney cancer.
Airports are also now switching to PFAS-free fire foam due to the current firefighting foam’s links to cancer. This provision was passed as part of the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration which passed the Senate 93-6.