How Firefighting Foam Threatens the Health of Our Families

As flames engulf structures, firefighters rush in, armed not just with bravery but with tools vital for extinguishing infernos. Among these tools is aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting agent lauded for its effectiveness in suppressing fires involving flammable liquids. 


However, behind its lifesaving reputation lies a darker reality—one that poses significant threats to the health and well-being of our families.

The Chemical Composition of AFFF

AFFF contains a mixture of synthetic compounds, primarily per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). ITRC states that these synthetic chemical compounds are designed to create a thin film on the surface of flammable liquids, preventing ignition. These PFAS compounds are known for their resistance to degradation, leading to their persistence in the environment and potential bioaccumulation in organisms. 


Additionally, AFFF may contain other additives, such as surfactants and solvents, to enhance its firefighting capabilities. The chemical composition of AFFF poses concerns due to the potential health and environmental impacts associated with PFAS contamination.

How AFFF is Permeating Our Living Spaces 

Once AFFF is deployed during firefighting operations, it can infiltrate soil and water sources, leading to widespread contamination. This contamination extends beyond firefighting sites, affecting communities, homes, and natural habitats. 


Due to its chemical properties, AFFF can travel through groundwater and surface water, reaching areas far from its point of origin. As per the U.S. Geological Survey, almost 45% of tap water across the United States is contaminated with PFAS as a result. Consequently, families may be exposed to PFAS through various routes, including drinking water, food sources, and direct contact with contaminated soil.

Health Impacts on Families

Reproductive difficulties, thyroid abnormalities, immune system suppression, and other health problems have all been related to exposure to PFAS, which is included in AFFF. Adverse health effects can result from these substances' disruption of hormone control and interference with normal physiological activities.


Furthermore, research has indicated that infants who are exposed to PFAS could have behavioral issues and developmental impairments. In order to protect the health of families and communities, it is critical to remediate AFFF pollution due to the cumulative effects of PFAS exposure.

Rallying Against AFFF Pollution 

Communities impacted by AFFF contamination are mobilizing to raise awareness and advocate for solutions to address the issue. Concerns about the health risks associated with PFAS exposure have prompted residents to demand accountability from government agencies and firefighting authorities. 


Grassroots movements and community organizations are pushing for stricter regulations on AFFF use and disposal, as well as cleanup efforts in affected areas. TorHoerman Law notes that lawsuits filed by affected communities seek restitution for damages and long-term monitoring of PFAS contamination.


These lawsuits often target both manufacturers of AFFF and entities responsible for its widespread use, such as firefighting departments and military installations. 


Drugwatch notes that as of June 2024, 8,270 AFFF lawsuits are pending in the firefighting foam litigation. Plaintiffs contend that the makers were aware of the potential harms of PFAS but failed to appropriately warn users or deploy safer alternatives.


Legal fights continue, with some communities already receiving settlements to support cleanup efforts and healthcare monitoring. The AFFF lawsuit seeks compensation while also attempting to promote legislative changes and ensuring that individuals responsible for pollution face consequences.

Safeguarding Our Families

Efforts are underway to develop and implement alternative firefighting methods and products that mitigate the risks associated with AFFF. Some fire departments are exploring the use of fluorine-free foams (F3) and other environmentally friendly firefighting agents. 


Research into innovative technologies, such as robotics and high-pressure water systems, offers promising alternatives to traditional AFFF use. By prioritizing the adoption of safer firefighting practices and investing in research and development, we can protect the health and well-being of our families.


What health issues does AFFF cause? 

AFFF exposure has been linked to immune system suppression, thyroid disorders, and reproductive problems. In addition, it raises the risk of several illnesses, including testicular and kidney cancer, and can cause behavioral problems and developmental delays in kids.

How to treat PFAS in groundwater? 

PFAS in groundwater can be treated using activated carbon filtration, which adsorbs the contaminants. Another effective method is ion exchange, which replaces harmful ions with less harmful ones, reducing PFAS concentration in the water.

Is AFFF foam still used today? 

Yes, AFFF foam is still used today, particularly in industries where flammable liquid fires are a concern, such as aviation and petrochemicals. However, there is a growing push to replace it with safer, fluorine-free alternatives.


In conclusion, the dangers associated with AFFF and its PFAS compounds demand immediate action to protect public health and the environment. Transitioning to safer alternatives, ensuring accountability for contamination, and supporting legal and advocacy efforts are crucial steps. 


Investing in innovative firefighting technologies and stricter regulations will help mitigate these risks. By prioritizing these measures, we can better safeguard our families and communities, ultimately fostering a healthier, more sustainable future.

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