Extinguishing a Class B fire, where a flammable liquid is present, can be challenging. These high-risk fires are common hazards in industrial environments, such as oil and gas facilities, refineries, bulk storage farms, aviation facilities, and more.
For many years, the best solution to diminish these flames and protect facilities, products, and people was aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). But that’s changing now. This is because AFFF is a synthetic-based foam that contains fluorinated and hydrocarbon-based surfactants, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
By now, you’re probably familiar with PFAS and its concerns. The good news is that advancements in firefighting technology have created various PFAS-free firefighting foam alternatives. We look closely at the dangers of AFFF and whether PFAS-free firefighting foams are safe alternatives below.
What Are the Dangers of AFFF?
AFFF is a highly effective fire suppressant but poses incredible environmental and human health risks. These risks stem from the PFAS it contains.
Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS don’t break down. Once released into the environment, they’re incredibly pervasive, leaking into the groundwater we use for drinking, bathing, and more. They harm our environment, and they harm our bodies.
The problem is that scientists only discovered this information a couple of years ago. Since then, environmentalists, legislative bodies, and organizations have been playing catch up, trying to limit the amount of PFAS in the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even passed a bill called the PFAS Protection Act of 2021.
Currently, every state has different laws and regulations regarding AFFF use, storage, and disposal. Some have completely banned it, others are starting to phase it out, and others have simply established rules surrounding AFFF applications. But one thing they all have in common is that they acknowledge the harmful effects of PFAS.
The key takeaway? The future of AFFF doesn’t look promising, and we need alternatives.
Are PFAS-Free Firefighting Foams Safer Than AFFF?
PFAS-free firefighting foams are widely considered safer alternatives to AFFF. This is because they don’t contain PFAS, of course.
However, there were other considerations firefighting foam experts had to make while creating these PFAS-free alternatives.
Safety Considerations with PFAS-Free Firefighting Foams
While developing and testing PFAS-free firefighting foams, scientists wanted to avoid a phenomenon called “regrettable substitution.” Regrettable substitution occurs when one hazardous chemical is replaced by another that’s just as harmful or worse. In other words, they wanted to avoid making a firefighting foam that didn’t contain PFAS but did contain another toxic chemical.
Scientists and governing officials were on the lookout for this issue because it’s happened before. BPA was once removed from baby bottles and other plastic products due to concerns about hormone disruption. It was replaced with BPS and BPF, which were later found to share the same properties and concerns.
So this too was a challenge with AFFF alternatives: to create PFAS-free firefighting foams that were effective and that didn’t contain any other harmful chemicals. This challenge is what extended the timeline to putting PFAS-free firefighting foams on the market and what’s held up some governing bodies from giving full approval.
Types of PFAS-Free Firefighting Foams
The good news? They did it. There are a few PFAS-free firefighting foams on the market that are proving to be effective. There are also many alternatives to firefighting foam available.
- Fluorine-Free Firefighting Foam — Fluorine-free firefighting foam is a synthetic-based foam that contains surfactant blends and polysaccharides. It doesn’t contain PFAS, and it’s biodegradable. It’s currently the most popular type of PFAS-free firefighting foam on the market. It’s already being used in many airports, military bases, and oil and gas facilities around the world.
- Dry Chemical Agent — Although it’s not technically a foam, a dry chemical agent is a safe, PFAS-free alternative to AFFF. It uses a pressurized, dry chemical powder to extinguish fires and is incredibly effective. We recommend ANSUL®’s dry chemical agent products like Purple-K, FORAY, and PLUS-FIFTY C.
Switch to a Safer Firefighting Foam Solution. Contact Vanguard.
AFFF is no longer an acceptable fire suppression solution. Although your facility may still be able to use it now, legislation regarding its use (or lack thereof) continues to evolve. We recommend that you transition to fluorine-free firefighting foam or a dry chemical agent as soon as possible.
This transition will help you do your part to reduce the levels of PFAS in our environment and the toll it can take on human bodies. It will also protect your facility from scrambling to comply with expected AFFF limitations and bans in the future. Contact our team to learn how we can help.