AFFF is something that’s been getting a lot of press in the fire protection industry lately. Though it is an effective firefighting substance, it’s been found by researchers to present health and environmental concerns. So, what’s the deal with AFFF? What does it do, how does it work, and are there effective alternatives to it? Keep on reading for a complete breakdown of everything you need to know.
What is AFFF?
AFFF or Aqueous Film Forming Foam is a highly effective firefighting substance used in applications where there is a significant flammable liquid hazard present. Some of its applications include:
- Chemical plants
- Highway emergency response
- Merchant operations like oil tankers and offshore platforms
- Oil refineries, terminals, and bulk fuel storage farms
- Aviation operations
- Military facilities
- Municipal services like fire departments
- Flammable liquid storage and processing facilities
How Does AFFF Work?
AFFF has been used so widely because it is an exceptionally effective fire-fighting solution for high-hazard flammable liquid fires. When applied to a hazard, AFFF produces an aqueous film that spreads across the surface of the fire to extinguish the flame. This film is what gives AFFF its name, and it works by suppressing flammable liquid vapor, effectively suffocating the fire hazard. The foam component further suppresses fires by keeping hot fuel from reigniting.
Human Health and Environmental Concerns with AFFF Use
Though AFFF is an effective fire-fighting substance, it has been shown by the EPA and others to present a risk to human health and to environmental safety. AFFF contains fluorine chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
Unfortunately, the EPA has stated that PFAS are dangerous. They do not dilute, degrade, or disappear, and they pose significant human health risks as they travel through our groundwater and soil. According to the EPA, PFAS have been linked to adverse human health effects including: cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease and imbalance, immune disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and more. Because PFAS is negatively persistent, it can move through drinking water, soil, and even concrete, and has contaminated drinking water in cities across the United States.
The Department of Defense has confirmed that aqueous film forming foam is a major environmentally contaminating source of PFAS. PFAS that comes from AFFF is able to seep into the environment and groundwater and continues to contaminate anything in its path.
Alternatives to AFFF
Though AFFF is an exceptionally effective fire fighting solution, the human health risks and environmental concerns it has been shown to present have rendered it a poor option, especially given new EPA requirements and regulatory actions. Luckily, there are alternatives, and fire-fighting technology is constantly moving closer to a solution that is just as effective as AFFF, without the toxic side effects of PFAS. Here are a few of the most effective alternatives on the market now.
C6 Foam Concentrates
C6 foam concentrates work similarly to AFFF, but use a more advanced formulation of concentrates that are less contaminating to the environment. Though C6 isn’t a perfect solution, it offers similar effectiveness to C8 AFFF and reduces the number of toxins released into the environment.
Fluorine-Free Fire Fighting Foams
Fluorine-Free Fire Fighting Foams (F3) provide a fire suppressing foam option that does not release PFAS chemicals into the environment at all. F3 is available and ready for use in manual fire fighting applications, as well as fixed system applications with an engineering evaluation.
Dry Chemical Alternatives
Dry chemical fire protection solutions are also an effective alternative to AFFF in many fire-fighting applications. Dry chemical products like Ansul’s Purple-K, Foray, and PLUS-Fifty can all be used to combat fires in Classes A, B, and C. These dry chemical agents have been developed to achieve optimum effectiveness, and they do not present the same PFAS human health and environmental concerns.
If your facility requires fire protection solutions for flammable liquid hazards, it’s important to know that AFFF isn’t your only option. There are a variety of fire protection solutions on the market that can provide the same level of fire suppression, without the environmental and human health concerns associated with PFAS.
If you’d like to learn more about the alternatives to AFFF, get in touch with the Vanguard team. We’d be happy to help answer any questions you have, and we offer a variety of services too, from information on current legislative efforts to evaluations of your existing foam concentrates and equipment.