As you gear up to dive into the world of firefighting, a concern often remains hidden beneath the heroics. It’s the cancer risk associated with firefighting AFFF foam.
Firefighters regularly confront the deadly flames, often relying on Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) to tame the fiery beast. While AFFF foam is a valuable weapon against flammable liquid fires, it conceals a hidden danger: PFAS chemicals lurking within it.
These persistent and hazardous chemicals pose a significant cancer risk, potentially affecting your health and the well-being of your fellow firefighters. This article unwinds the layers of this critical issue, shedding light on why it matters.
What is AFFF Foam?
AFFF foam is a critical firefighting tool used to combat fires involving flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil, and chemicals. It’s a specialized foam designed to rapidly suppress and extinguish these fires, making it a valuable asset in firefighting operations.
AFFF foam is unique because it forms a thin, stable film over the surface of the flammable liquid. This film acts as a barrier that prevents the release of flammable vapors, cutting off the fire’s fuel source. Essentially, it suffocates the fire and cools it down, preventing re-ignition.
The Cancer Concern
The cancer concern surrounding firefighting AFFF foam arises from the presence of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These are harmful chemicals found in this firefighting foam. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, raising alarm bells within the firefighting community.
According to TorHoerman Law, studies have shown that firefighters exposed to AFFF may face a higher risk of developing cancer. These may include bladder, lung, testicular, liver, and kidney cancer. While protecting people from fire, these brave individuals may unknowingly be putting their health on the line due to their occupational exposure.
The AFFF lawsuit updates emphasize the expanding understanding of the cancer risk connected to this foam. The September 2023 AFFF lawsuit update indicates that the multidistrict litigation (MDL) for individual cases alleging injuries from AFFF exposure is growing. This growth is marked by the consolidation of nearly 6,000 individual AFFF lawsuits.
Lawsuits related to AFFF, initiated by municipalities due to water contamination concerns, are nearing a reported global settlement valued at over $10.3 billion. The focus remains on individuals who have filed AFFF lawsuits, alleging their cancer health issues result from AFFF firefighting foam exposure.
How AFFF Foam Exposure Occurs
When firefighters deploy AFFF foam to extinguish fires, they often come into direct contact with it through their skin. The foam can stick to their protective gear, leading to skin absorption of the foam’s components, including PFAS chemicals. Even after the fire is out, residual foam on gear and equipment can continue to pose a risk.
Inhalation of aerosolized particles is another common route of exposure. As AFFF foam is applied to a fire, it can create a mist or aerosol that firefighters may inhale. It can introduce PFAS compounds directly into their respiratory systems, potentially leading to health concerns.
Due to its occurrence leading to exposure, scientists and public health specialists believe PFAS to be dangerous. According to them, PFAS may have contaminated more than 700 current and previous military installations. It has also contaminated several thousand towns across the United States.
Additionally, it has affected and exposed millions of individuals to adverse health effects. With no surprise, the pollution was brought about by firefighting, dumping, and spills, which need to be stopped, states the Wisconsin Examiner.
Chemical Components of AFFF Foam
One of the key components in AFFF foam is water, which serves as the primary extinguishing agent. Water helps cool down the fire, reducing its temperature and preventing it from reigniting.
However, the additional chemical components make AFFF foam unique in dealing with liquid fires. AFFF foam contains surfactants, which are substances that lower the surface tension of water.
This film-forming foam has fluorochemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These fluorochemicals allow the foam to repel flammable liquids and create a barrier that prevents the release of flammable vapors. It is essential for effectively suppressing liquid fires.
Health Risks for Firefighters
These PFAS chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including prostate, testicular, and kidney cancer. When firefighters use AFFF foam to combat fires, they may come into contact with these harmful substances. These could seep through their skin, inhalation, or even ingestion if they accidentally swallow contaminated water or food.
Moreover, chemicals in AFFF have been connected to many additional health issues, states ConsumerNotice. This link comes in support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the EPA, and researchers. These consist of:
- Cholesterol issue
- Ulcerative colitis
- Thyroid ailment
- Fertility problem
- Immune system changes
- Developmental changes in fetuses and children
Understanding these health risks is vital for the well-being of these courageous firefighters. It underscores the urgency to develop safer firefighting practices and promote better equipment cleaning procedures.
Regulatory Actions and Awareness Efforts
Regulatory agencies and organizations are working on setting guidelines and standards for using AFFF foam. Also, it emphasizes the disposal of foam-containing PFAS chemicals. These regulations aim to reduce the exposure of firefighters and the general public to these harmful substances.
Moreover, there has been a significant push to raise awareness among firefighters and emergency responders. Training programs, seminars, and educational materials are being developed to inform firefighters about safe handling practices.
Numerous initiatives to find, monitor, and ultimately eliminate AFFFs have been started due to environmental and health issues. To speed up these efforts, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists recently released additional reference materials.
NIST researchers have developed these AFFF reference materials (RMs) using PFAS in partnership with the DOD. It states that previous AFFFs continue to exist, and thus, the RMs will assist organizations in identifying foams containing PFAS before they are prohibited.
Four RMs from NIST with various PFAS foam compositions have been made available. For laboratories that wish to check for them, the RMs are helpful. The RMs will also assist the military in buying substitute fire suppressants.
Protecting Yourself and Mitigating Risks
Firefighters should be diligent about using personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly. It includes wearing turnout gear, gloves, and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). They minimize skin contact and inhalation of harmful chemicals in AFFF foam and firefighting residues.
Proper decontamination procedures are crucial after firefighting operations involving AFFF foam. It includes a thorough cleaning of gear and equipment to remove any residual foam and contaminants. Additionally, showering as soon as possible after exposure can help minimize the risk of skin absorption.
Fire departments should also prioritize training and education on the potential health risks associated with AFFF foam. Firefighters should be informed about the dangers of PFAS chemicals and the importance of preventive measures.
Protecting Firefighters: A Safer Future Ahead
To ensure the firefighter’s well-being, they must prioritize safety measures. It includes proper protective gear, thorough decontamination procedures, and supporting research into safer alternatives. Regulatory actions and awareness efforts are essential steps towards reducing these risks.
By working together, people can ensure that the firefighters return home safely after every heroic act of service. They deserve the utmost support in facing these challenges.