The topic of firefighting foams has received a lot of attention lately. As new discoveries are made regarding the use and safety of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), many firefighting foam manufacturers and consumers are required to pay more attention to how their fire protection solutions are affecting the world around them. 

Recently, many facilities have made the transition from C8 firefighting foam to C6 firefighting foam. Let’s talk about what these two substances are and how they’re different — as well as why and how you may make that switch as well. 

C8 Firefighting Foam vs. C6 Firefighting Foam: What’s the Difference? 

Let’s start with where the terms “C8” and “C6” come from. 

Firefighting foams have long been manufactured using fluorosurfactants, which are synthetic chemical compounds composed of multiple fluorine atoms. These fluorosurfactants also have varying carbon chain lengths, most often between 6 carbon atoms and 12. This is where C8 and C6 come in — where C8 fluorosurfactants have longer carbon chain lengths of 8, and C6 fluorosurfactants have shorter carbon chain lengths of 6. 

About C8 Firefighting Foam

In the past, C8 foam has been the most common type of firefighting foam on the market. In fact, it’s been coined the “legacy” firefighting foam by many in the industry. It’s effective at extinguishing even the toughest of fires. 

However, various studies have discovered major problems with C8 foam. Scientists found that a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a byproduct of the manufacturing process used to create the C8 fluorosurfactant. PFOA is one of the per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are incredibly persistent in the environment and in the human body. 

PFAS don’t break down easily. Their strong fluorine-carbon bonds make them almost indestructible — and also extremely dangerous to our health. Initial health studies have shown PFAS to be linked to serious health issues like:

  • Cancer
  • Reproductive and developmental issues
  • Liver and kidney issues
  • Low infant birth weights
  • Thyroid hormone disruption
  • Immunological effects

About C6 Firefighting Foam

In response to research findings regarding C8 foam and PFOA/PFAS, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a task force to understand better the risks associated with C8 foam and to prevent them from snowballing. 

Through their research, the EPA discovered that any fluorosurfactant with a carbon chain length longer than 6 could form PFOA and be toxic to the environment and human health. But any fluorosurfactant with a carbon chain length of 6 or less would not, making it a safer alternative. Thus, the transition to C6 firefighting foam. 

Why Transition From C8 to C6 Firefighting Foam? 

The main reason to transition from C8 foam to C6 foam? To protect our environment and to save human lives. 

The other reasons? The EPA and other legislative bodies have begun to take action against C8 foam and PFAS. They’ve seen the harm these “forever chemicals” have done to our planet and people and have since established regulations against their use. 

The United States government has proposed a bill called the PFAS Action Act of 2021. As it currently stands, this bill wouldn’t outright ban firefighting foams containing PFAS, but it would put strong limitations on their use. 

Beyond that, many states are taking PFAS-regulation matters into their own hands. Each state has different regulations, which have been subject to change as more research is completed. You can read more about some of the states’ actions in this blog post

How to Transition From C8 to C6 Firefighting Foam

If your facility is hoping to move away from C8 firefighting foam, there are some steps you should take in order to do it as safely and effectively as possible. In general, there are three main steps to this process: containment, disposal, and replacement. 

1. Containing C8 Firefighting Foam

The most important thing to remember while containing C8 foam is to never release it directly into the environment. Make sure that the foam and firewater runoff are contained after discharge.

Here are some tips for how to discharge and contain C8 foam properly: 

  • Create a foam and firewater runoff discharge and containment plan beforehand
  • Install primary and secondary containment systems on site
  • Build temporary dikes or booms
  • Block nearby sewer drains

2. Disposing of C8 Firefighting Foam

Once your C8 foam is contained, you need to dispose of it in a way that doesn’t let it seep back into the environment. You should never try to do this on your own. 

Instead, find an accredited C8 foam disposal company. They may also be referred to as an AFFF disposal company, or a PFAS disposal company. Whatever it may be, the company will be able to dispose of your C8 foam safely through high-temperature incineration. 

3. Replacing C8 Firefighting Foam with C6 Firefighting Foam

Before replacing your firefighting foam system with the new C6 solution, ensure that your system is either thoroughly cleaned out or replaced altogether. C8 foam and PFAS are highly persistent, so it’s important to make sure every element is cleaned, and all traces of PFAS and C8 foam are gone. Otherwise, it will just mix with the new C6 foam — making the transition anything but worthwhile. 

In order to complete each of these steps safely and effectively, you may wish to hire a fire protection expert for help. At Vanguard Fire & Security Systems, our Industrial Fire Protection team can help with the safe containment, disposal, and replacement of C8 foam. We’re here to help you make the world a better, safer place to live in. 

Have More Questions About Firefighting Foams? Contact Us

Transitioning from C8 to C6 firefighting foam is still widely accepted in our industry. However the more permanent solution is transitioning away from all AFFFs to a fluorine-free foam concentrate. For more information, check out this previous blog or reach out to our team.

At Vanguard Fire & Security Systems, we’re dedicated to staying up to date on the latest and greatest in the fire protection industry. We’ll help you stay ahead of ever-changing regulations and keep your property, products, and people safe. 

To get in touch, you may call us at (800) 444-8719 or contact us online.

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