The dangers of PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” are finally being recognized. The Environmental Protection Agency recently lowered the allowable limit of PFAS in drinking water. Concerns over PFAS in pesticides, fast food wrappers, makeup and clothing are making headlines lately.
PFAS is in AFFF used to extinguish petroleum and jet fuel-based fires
PFAS is prevalent in aqueous film forming foams (“AFFF”). AFFF is used to extinguish petroleum and jet fuel-based fires. It has been used at military bases, airports and fire departments for decades. PFAS in AFFF is the subject of a multidistrict litigation in Federal Court. Thousands of firefighters, municipalities and states have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of AFFF for damages sustained as a result of exposure to PFAS in AFFF.
Recent government regulations confirm that AFFF containing PFAS should not be used anymore. But what happens to the leftover and unusable AFFF at military bases, airports and fire departments? Scientists and environmental groups are responding to this dilemma and trying to figure out the safest way to get rid of unused AFFF.
This is a difficult task because PFAS is nearly impossible to destroy. It does not break down in the environment or body. Environmental agencies recognize that AFFF containing PFAS cannot simply be thrown away. This harms the environment through groundwater and soil contamination.
Burying unused AFFF can harm the environment
One method of disposal has been burying AFFF. This can be harmful because, like throwing it away, barrels of AFFF can leak and contaminate groundwater and soil. Some environmental disposal companies solidify the AFFF before burying it. Other disposal companies line burial sites and encase the AFFF in cement to prevent leaching into the ground.
Burning unused AFFF pollutes the air with toxic chemicals
In the past, the most popular method of disposal was burning it. But it has finally been recognized that this releases harmful chemicals into the air. In fact, earlier this year, the Department of Defense ordered companies to stop burning PFAS waste, including AFFF. The moratorium can be found here: Temporary Prohibition on Incineration of Materials Containing Pre- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) – April 26, 2022 (defense.gov)
Studies show alternate ways to dispose of AFFF
Recognizing a problem, scientists and environmental groups are working to develop safer, alternative disposal methods. New technology is focused on breaking down the PFAS in AFFF instead of getting rid of the AFFF.
For example, one recent study showed that PFAS can be broken down with just two ingredients: lye, which is used to make soap, and another chemical called dimethyl sulfoxide which is found in bladder pain medication.
Another promising solution was created by an environmental firefighting company. It created technology based on water oxidation to break down PFAS.
Hopefully, alternative methods of disposing AFFF will be utilized soon to keep the environment and public safe.