Connect with us


Understanding AFFF Runoff and Its Lingering Effects on the Environment



Understanding AFFF Runoff and Its Lingering Effects on the Environment

Firefighting is a crucial aspect of protecting lives and property, often requiring the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to suppress hazardous fires effectively. However, while AFFF is highly effective in extinguishing flames, its runoff poses significant environmental concerns. 

Understanding the implications of AFFF runoff is vital for mitigating its adverse effects on ecosystems and human health. In this article, we will explore the multifaceted issue of AFFF runoff, covering its environmental impact, legal repercussions, and mitigation strategies.

What is AFFF?

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a specialized firefighting agent designed to suppress fires. It functions by creating a thin film on the fuel’s surface, cutting off the fire’s oxygen supply and preventing its spread. 

AFFF is widely used in industries such as aviation, petrochemicals, and military operations due to its effectiveness in combating Class B fires. As per the International Fire & Safety Journal, Class B fires are those that involve liquid combustibles. Examples include jet fuel, gasoline, and oil.

Its ability to rapidly smother fires makes it a vital tool for firefighters facing hazardous situations where traditional water-based methods may be ineffective.

AFFF Components

AFFF formulations typically consist of water, fluorochemical surfactants, foam stabilizers, corrosion inhibitors, and propellants. These components work synergistically to create a foam blanket that extinguishes fires by cooling and suppressing vapors. 

Fluorochemical surfactants reduce the surface tension of water, enabling it to spread rapidly across the fuel surface and form a stable foam layer. Additives like corrosion inhibitors protect firefighting equipment from damage, ensuring the foam’s effectiveness over time.

Environmental Impact of AFFF Runoff

The discharge of AFFF during firefighting activities can lead to environmental contamination, particularly in water bodies and soil. The chemicals present in AFFF, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been linked to adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems and human health. 

PFAS compounds are known for their environmental persistence, making them difficult to degrade naturally and posing long-term risks of bioaccumulation in food chains.

Persistence in the Environment

PFAS compounds, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are key constituents of AFFF formulations. These chemicals have been detected in various environmental media worldwide, including groundwater, surface water, and even Arctic regions. 

Their persistence in the environment poses challenges for remediation efforts and necessitates stringent regulations to minimize exposure and prevent further contamination.  According to the World Economic Forum, PFAS can take up to thousands of years to break down. Their usage is estimated to cost society $17.5 trillion each year.

Regulatory Measures and Alternatives

In response to growing concerns about PFAS contamination, regulatory agencies are imposing restrictions on the use of AFFF containing these chemicals. Additionally, efforts are underway to develop PFAS-free firefighting foams that are equally effective but less harmful to the environment. 

Some alternatives include fluorine-free foams, protein-based foams, and high-expansion foams, which offer promising solutions for addressing AFFF’s environmental impact. Collaborative initiatives between industry stakeholders and

regulatory bodies aim to accelerate the adoption of safer firefighting practices and technologies.

Lawsuits and Legal Ramifications

According to TorHoerman Law, numerous lawsuits have been filed against AFFF manufacturers and users, alleging negligence and environmental damage. Plaintiffs claim that AFFF runoff has contaminated drinking water sources and harmed communities near firefighting sites. 

The Lawsuit Information Center notes that as of February 2024, there are approximately 9.200 lawsuits pending in the AFFF litigation. 

The AFFF lawsuit highlights the need for accountability within the industry and underscores the importance of adopting safer firefighting practices to prevent further harm. Legal actions serve as a catalyst for increased transparency and responsibility in managing AFFF use and its environmental consequences.

Conservation Measures

To mitigate AFFF runoff’s environmental impact, various strategies are being implemented, including the installation of containment systems to capture and treat firefighting foam discharges. Advanced wastewater treatment technologies, such as activated carbon filtration and ion exchange, are also being employed to remove PFAS compounds from contaminated water sources. 

Furthermore, training programs for firefighting personnel emphasize the importance of minimizing AFFF usage and implementing best practices to reduce environmental harm. Collaborative efforts between government agencies, research institutions, and industry stakeholders are essential for developing mitigation strategies and ensuring the long-term sustainability of firefighting operations.


How does AFFF affect the body?

AFFF exposure may lead to adverse health effects due to its chemical constituents, particularly per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances can accumulate in the body over time, potentially causing immune system disruption, hormonal imbalances, and increased risk of certain health conditions.

Can AFFF cause kidney disease?

Studies suggest a potential link between AFFF exposure, particularly to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and kidney disease. PFAS accumulation in the body may contribute to renal impairment and increase the risk of developing kidney-related health conditions.

What is the difference between 3% and 6% AFFF?

The difference between 3% and 6% AFFF lies in their concentration of firefighting foam solution. A 3% AFFF solution contains a lower concentration of foam-forming chemicals compared to 6% AFFF, resulting in different firefighting effectiveness and application rates.

In conclusion, the widespread use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in firefighting operations has undoubtedly saved countless lives and protected valuable assets. However, its runoff poses significant environmental and health risks due to the persistence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The legal ramifications underscore the urgency for accountability and safer alternatives. 

While regulatory measures and conservation efforts are underway, collaboration among stakeholders remains pivotal. Moving forward, prioritizing the development and adoption of PFAS-free foams, alongside robust containment and treatment systems, is essential for safeguarding ecosystems and public health. This multifaceted approach will pave the way for sustainable firefighting practices and a healthier environment for future generations.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *