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The transition away from fire fighting foam that contains PFAS

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Since 3M and the US Navy developed the first AFFFs back in the 1960s, firefighting foams containing fluorochemicals have been the predominate firefighting foams used on commercial and military aerodromes globally. Film forming foams such as AFFF and FFFP were (and still are) widely used for the ARFF mission in many countries. These high-performance products met the fire performance requirements of the appropriate international bodies of ICAO and the US CAA, were generally easy to handle, had good shelf life, and were available from a large number of manufacturers around the world.

In 2000 however, 3M announced (with 60 days’ notice) that they were exiting the firefighting foam market!

The reasoning was fundamentally due to the negative environmental impact of using their firefighting foam agents! A chemical compound known as Perfluoro Octane Sulfonate (PFOS) used by 3M in their firefighting foams was identified as a substance of very high concern due to its Persistence, its capacity to Bioaccumulate and its Toxicity.

Perfluoro Octane Sulfonate (PFOS) was identified in 2009 under the Stockholm Convention as a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP).

Whilst 3M were the only foam manufacturer that used PFOS, environmental legislators such as the US EPA turned their attention to another chemical called PFOA, which could be found in the fluorinated foams manufactured by all other foam manufacturers.

The figure below illustrates the timeline relating to the evaluation and subsequent legislative measures taken to restrict and eventually prohibit the use of PFAS in firefighting foams:

It has already been established that transitioning away from the use of PFAS containing foam agents such as AFFF and FFFP is environmentally responsible and sustainable. With legislation changing and top organisations restricting the production and export of PFAS containing products, the likelyhood of supply shortages in the future needs to be part of your business strategy. The UAE is already establishing and implementing regulations to phase out the use of AFFF with PFAS to encourage the use of non-fluorinated foam and alternative solutions.

  • Should the transition to fluorine free foams be made now for organisations in the UAE?

The UAE is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs.) As a party to the Convention, the UAE is obligated to implement the measures called for under the Convention, which include taking steps to eliminate or reduce the production and use of POPs, and to manage and dispose of POPs and POPs-contaminated waste in an environmentally sound manner.

  • What does this mean for your organisation?

The first question that must be addressed is whether any of your existing AFFF or FFFP is older than 2016. This foam will contain PFOA and should NOT be used. (Foams supplied after 2016 should use shorter chain PFASs which are currently not part of the SC9/12).

  • Who can help you with the transition?

As the driving force behind the transition is environmental responsibility, the fluorine free foam agent that you choose, must be able to prove that the concentrate has “no intentionally added PFAS compounds”. Only credible foam manufacturers can provide analysis data to support this claim or indicate GREENSCREEN certification for their foam agent. Third party testing and certification must be obtained to prove “environmental impact”

  • What about performance and compatibility?

The good news is that the latest generation of fluorine free foam agents are demonstrating extinguishing times as fast as C6 AFFF’s. The bad news is that It is NOT possible to mix a fluorine free foam concentrate and an AFFF (or FFFP). Managing the transition requires a complete change out or if phased, then vehicle by vehicle or system by system. The phased approach requires more ongoing management of inventory and testing.

ESS has a full case study to help you decide on the best approach going forward. We offer foam that is completely free of fluorosurfactants and fluoropolymers. We represent foam concentrates that are tested and approved to international or industry standards appropriate to your application or mission. Get in touch and let us help you become environmentally responsible whilst securing your organization against future supply chain risks.


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