What Is the Controversy Surrounding AFFF Foam and Firefighters?

The foam used in firefighting may save lives, but it could also endanger them. AFFF foam contains toxic PFAS substances that have seeped into soil and water around military bases and airports.

Decades after its widespread adoption, research now links some PFAS to cancer, thyroid disease, and other health issues. As communities learn their water is contaminated, anger is rising against the makers of AFFF foam. Their future use in firefighting is now controversial, as experts debate if the foam’s firefighting benefits outweigh the risks of chemical pollution it leaves behind.

The fight over this foam has ignited difficult questions about balancing fire safety with public health.

The Concerning Health Effects of AFFF

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a type of firefighting foam that is effective at extinguishing petroleum-based fires. It has been widely used by the U.S. military at bases and some civilian fire departments for decades.

However, concerns have emerged regarding the health effects of chemicals in AFFF called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals with many industrial and commercial uses due to their heat and water resistance.

They have been used in products like food packaging, coatings for pans and other products. When this product is sprayed during fire training exercises, the PFASs can contaminate the environment through water, soil, and air.

Studies show these chemicals do not break down easily and can accumulate in human blood, organs like the liver and kidneys, and in nearly all Americans.

PFAS exposure has been linked to health issues like thyroid disease, high cholesterol, fertility issues, obesity, liver damage, and some cancers. The immune system and vaccine responses in children may also be suppressed.

While one study found PFAS in various foods, the FDA says current levels do not raise health concerns based on current science. However, more research is still needed due to these chemicals persisting for thousands of years once in the environment.

In light of these concerns, lawsuits have been filed by firefighters regarding PFAS exposure from AFFF use. In 2018, the federal court system consolidated nationwide AFFF lawsuits in South Carolina for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

How Victims Are Fighting Against Manufacturers of AFFF

Many individuals who worked as firefighters, served in the military, or worked in chemical plants have become concerned about potential health risks from exposure to AFFF.

However, AFFF contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are linked to serious health issues like cancer and liver disease. People exposed to this foam during firefighting training or chemical spills may be at risk for developing long-term health problems.

As a result, numerous lawsuits, such as the AFFF foam lawsuit, have been filed against manufacturers who supplied fire departments, military bases, and industrial plants. Companies named in the lawsuits include major corporations like 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Tyco Fire Products, and Chemguard, among over a dozen others.

According to TorHoerman Law, currently, over 7,000 individual lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in federal court. An MDL allows similar cases filed across different courts to be centralized for coordinated pretrial proceedings. This consolidation aims to streamline the process and ensure consistent rulings.

The lawsuits allege that manufacturers knew about AFFF’s health risks for decades but failed to provide adequate warnings. As the litigation grows, a procedural framework is being established to analyze the scientific evidence regarding AFFF’s links to cancer and other illnesses.

While one past settlement addressed water contamination, the ongoing individual exposure lawsuits continue to grow, with over 170 new cases added in just the last month. As evidence is examined, exposed individuals are pursuing legal action to hold manufacturers accountable.

The Rise of Fluorine-Free Foam

Letterkenny Army Depot (LEAD) has taken significant steps to support the Army’s goals of addressing PFAS.

In accordance with the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, LEAD transitioned its fire trucks away from AFFF containing PFAS.

By December 2023, under Fire Chief Dave McGlynn and Captain Scott McGonigal, LEAD converted its three fire engines to use PFAS-free fluorine-free foam (FFF) instead. This positions LEAD as a leader in adopting more environmentally friendly firefighting solutions.

The transition ensures LEAD’s Fire and Emergency Services department can safely respond to emergencies during the Army’s ongoing modernization and construction projects at the facility. It also allows the department to assist the surrounding Franklin County community while avoiding potential PFAS exposure.

LEAD worked closely with other installation departments to properly transfer and dispose of the old AFFF. Limited past testing found elevated PFAS near fire training areas on-post. Going PFAS-free eliminates an ongoing PFAS source and supports the Army’s efforts to assess and remediate any contamination.

While no off-post wells tested above EPA’s previous health advisory level in 2022, LEAD will continue monitoring nearby properties. The Army only used AFFF for emergencies previously but will now rely solely on the PFAS-free foam.


1. Is AFFF foam banned?

A: Yes, the use of AFFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam) foam containing PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) compounds has been banned in California. The state has passed a law that prohibits the manufacture, sale, use, and disposal of firefighting foams containing PFAS. This ban will come into effect on January 1, 2022.

2. What will replace AFFF foam?

A: One of the leading replacements for AFFF foam is GFFF (Green Fluorine-Free Foam). GFFF is a fluorine-free firefighting foam that is designed to be a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to the product. It is marketed as a non-toxic and non-carcinogenic Class B foam that can effectively protect life, property, and resources.

3. Is AFFF hazardous waste?

A: Yes, AFFF is considered a hazardous material by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) due to its potential physical hazards, such as skin and eye irritation. Additionally, the discharge of wastewater and runoff containing it into land, sea, or surface water bodies is subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.

The controversy around AFFF foam has ignited a debate that pits fire safety against public health concerns. While it effectively tackles petroleum fires, growing evidence links its toxic chemicals to serious health issues.

As victims pursue legal action and military sites transition away from PFAS, the future of AFFF remains unclear. But the priority of protecting people from harmful pollution has never been more urgent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *