Why AFFF Could Be the Next Public Health Crisis

Fuel fire suppression has been achieved for many years with the widespread use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), mostly by military and civilian firefighters. However, new studies and increased public awareness are revealing the serious health risks linked to the chemicals in AFFF.

The main components of AFFF are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their enduring nature. These chemicals can build up in human bodies and cause major health issues since they do not decompose in the environment.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that AFFF may be the catalyst for the next significant public health emergency. Communities near military bases, airports, and firefighting training sites are at particular risk, facing contaminated water supplies and increased health issues. 

In this post, we will look at the grounds for the growing worry about a potential AFFF health crisis.

Understanding PFAS in AFFF

According to a report published by MDPI, PFAS, the active compounds in AFFF, are highly stable chemicals designed to resist heat, water, and oil. This stability, while beneficial for firefighting, poses significant risks to human health and the environment. 

Once in the human body, these chemicals can bioaccumulate, leading to various health problems such as cancers, thyroid disease, and liver damage. PFAS can interfere with hormone function, suppress the immune system, and induce oxidative stress, highlighting the urgent need for safer alternatives.

Communities at Risk

Communities near military bases, airports, and firefighting training facilities are particularly vulnerable to PFAS contamination. These areas often rely on groundwater sources that have been heavily polluted by AFFF use.

Residents face not only immediate health risks from contaminated drinking water but also long-term consequences of chronic exposure. Efforts to mitigate this contamination are slow and costly, leaving communities to cope with ongoing health and environmental repercussions.

Emerging Lawsuits

TruLaw notes that as awareness of PFAS-related health risks grows, so does the number of lawsuits filed against manufacturers and users of AFFF. High-profile cases have been launched against major chemical companies like DuPont and 3M, accused of knowing the dangers but failing to disclose them. 

Drugwatch notes that there are 8,270 pending lawsuits in the AFFF multidistrict litigation. Plaintiffs seek compensation for health issues and environmental damage attributed to PFAS exposure. The AFFF lawsuit aims to hold corporations accountable, driving potential regulatory changes and encouraging safer practices in the future.

Alternatives to AFFF

There is a growing push towards developing and adopting safer alternatives to AFFF, such as fluorine-free foams. These alternatives are designed to be effective against fuel fires without the harmful impacts of PFAS. 

Some fire departments and military organizations are also exploring non-foam-based methods, like dry chemical agents and water mist systems. Transitioning to these alternatives requires investment in new equipment and training, but the long-term benefits make this shift necessary.

The Need for Comprehensive Policies

Addressing the AFFF public health crisis requires robust regulatory action at both national and international levels. Current regulations regarding PFAS are often fragmented and insufficient to protect communities from exposure. 

Comprehensive policies are needed to phase out PFAS in firefighting foams, enforce cleanup standards for contaminated sites, and ensure safe drinking water. NFPA notes that the US military, which developed AFFF in the 1960s, plans to stop using it by October 2024 due to environmental concerns. 

Governments must invest in research for safer alternatives, support affected communities, and hold polluters accountable to prevent future health crises.


How toxic is AFFF foam?

AFFF foam contains PFAS chemicals, which are highly toxic and persistent in the environment. These chemicals can lead to serious health issues, including cancer, liver damage, and thyroid disease. This is due to their ability to bioaccumulate in the human body.

What does 3% AFFF mean?

3% AFFF means the foam concentrate must be mixed with water at a 3:97 ratio to be effective. This specific concentration ensures the foam can effectively suppress fuel fires while maintaining its chemical properties.

Who can apply for an AFFF lawsuit?

Individuals and communities exposed to AFFF, particularly those near military bases or firefighting sites, can apply for a lawsuit. Victims seeking compensation for health issues or environmental damage linked to AFFF exposure are eligible to file claims.

In conclusion, the potential AFFF public health crisis requires urgent and comprehensive action. The persistent and toxic nature of PFAS in AFFF has already resulted in significant environmental contamination and health risks. This is especially true in the case of communities near military bases and airports. 

Legal actions against manufacturers emphasize the necessity for accountability and transparency. Transitioning to safer firefighting alternatives and implementing robust regulatory measures are critical steps. Governments and organizations must invest in research, cleanup efforts, and support for affected communities to prevent further harm and safeguard public health. 

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