California has passed into law a measure that bans PFAS compounds from firefighting foams (AFFF). This ban will take effect on January 1, 2022 and covers the ban on the manufacture, sale, and use and also restricts the disposal of firefighting foams containing PFAS.
In December 2019, the US Congress made the historic decision to phase out PFAS in military firefighting foams by 2024. In 2018, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to change its rules so that airports could also switch to PFAS-free foams.
AFFF are among the most significant sources of PFAS in drinking water and with this ruling, California has moved one step forward in the removal of PFAS from our drinking water. Increasingly, states aren’t waiting that long to move to safer and effective alternatives. California joins Colorado, New Hampshire, New York and Washington to ban all PFAS in firefighting foam, with only limited exceptions, and require reporting of the presence of all PFAS in firefighting gear. Legislatures in Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont are also considering similar bans.
There has been some controversy about the efficiency of PFAS free foams to extinguish fires. However, there now seems to be a consensus amongst experts that good alternatives are available:
- At a congressional hearing in September 2019, DuPont’s COO Daryl Roberts announced the company’s intention to discontinue the use of foams containing PFAS.
- Ian Ross from Arcadis, a leading expert in the environmental field, published an article in International Airport Review, discussing the move away from PFAS containing foams.
- A comprehensive report from the European Union on The use of PFAs and fluorine-free alternatives in firefighting foams gives a very clear overview of issued related to a shift from PFAS to non-fluorine firefighting foams.
- Another challenge is to ensure alternatives do not become a problem of the future; the question remains are they safer? An article issued by Northeastern University discusses these concerns in detail. Unfortunately, experience tells us that many substitute chemicals have had a negative impact on both health and the environment. Two classic examples are the change to Brominated Flame retardants and Bisphenol-A.
The actual formulation of new chemicals are treated as industry secrets and it is hard for buyers to confirm alternatives are less harmful. A product label can be difficult to understand without some previous knowledge with chemicals. Many of the PFAS free firefighting foams on the market are based on other surfactants than PFAS with names that are hard to understand for a normal person.
Michigan Department of Environment has issued a tutorial on how to identify PFAS free firefighting foams.
ALS is committed to be on the forefront of PFAS analysis and regulatory guidance to ensure that we all work together to eradicate PFAS from our drinking water.
Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic compounds widely used in industrial applications that are characterized by highly fluorinated hydrophobic linear carbon chain attached to a hydrophilic functional group. PFAS’ are of interest due to their extreme persistence in the environment, ability to bioaccumulate, toxicity potential, and adverse human health effects.
The chemical structure of PFAS’ gives them unique properties, such as thermal stability and the ability to repel water and oil, making them useful in a wide variety of industrial and consumer products (fabric stain protectors, waterproofing of fabric, non-stick cookware, food packaging, lubricants, firefighting foams).
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two of the best known and most studied PFAS’. During the manufacturing process of some PFAS, and the use of PFAS products PFOA and PFOS have been released to the air, water and soil throughout the world. PFOA and PFOS have been detected in many isolated parts of the word indicating that long-range transport of these chemicals is possible.
Other PFAS’ of environmental concern include Perfluorooctane sulfonamides, sulfonamidoethanols, Fluorotelomer sulfonates, and other forms of Perfluoro carboxylates and Perfluorosulfonates.
EPA has found that there is suggestive evidence that PFOS and PFOA may cause cancer (EPA 2016d, 2016e).
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that PFOA is possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) (IARC 2016).
In May 2016, EPA established drinking water health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L)) for the combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA. Above these levels, EPA recommends that drinking water systems take steps to assess contamination, inform consumers and limit exposure. The health advisory levels are based on the RfDs (EPA 2016b, 2016c).
*Editor's note - 10/01/2020: This article has been updated to reflect Bill SB 1044 becoming Law.