** UPDATE APRIL 2021 **
Before you dive further into the website, we would like first to mention a family of chemicals called Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS and menacingly known as the “FOREVER CHEMICAL.” They include PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate).
It has become apparent over the last few months that some of our clients are unaware of the issues faced with the continued use of PFAS based products such as Firefighting Foams. If you are a firefighter or commercial user of Fluorinated AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) in your Fixed Fire Suppression systems, you need to know that they are PERSISTENT, BIOACCUMULATIVE and cause many HEALTH CONCERNS.
For many years, they were thought to be inert and nontoxic, but it became apparent that this was not the case at the turn of this century, and now the level of PFAS Global Contamination has caused several countries to ban their use, and here in the UK and Europe, we are trailing behind. PFAS compounds cause REPRODUCTIVE, DEVELOPMENTAL issues and IMMUNOLOGICAL disorders. Evidence has shown they increase the causes of some Cancers that affect firefighters.
As mentioned, there is a global drive to remove PFAS from many thousands of everyday items (over 4,700 compounds), not just firefighting foams. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) has classified PFOA and its compounds a Group 2B Carcinogen (ability to cause cancer to humans.)
Manufacturers of AFFF have been pushing the drive to move to F3 (Flourine-free foam); however, although F3 firefighting foams are free of PFAS compounds which is a good thing, the chemical compounds that replace the fluorine are equally invasive. We feel you need to be given the whole picture. So, we would also like to introduce another term you may not be familiar with, and this is BOD.
BOD stands for BIOCHEMICAL OXYGEN DEMAND, and why is BOD also significant? Why should you care about both PFAS or BOD?
You will find that most FRS (Fire and Rescue Service), Governing Bodies, and End-users of firefighting foams in the UK and Europe will find it challenging to understand why there are environmental consequences of using AFFF and F3 firefighting foams. AFFF are fluorinated foams, and F3’s are fluorine-free, so F3 don’t contain PFAS (the nasty stuff), so they must be environmentally friendly, right?? WRONG.
First, most FRS have not moved over to F3 foams and continue to use highly toxic AFFF on large impact fires such as Waste Recycling sites. These can burn for days or even weeks, and water struggles to extinguish these types of fires. FRS’s have been using F3 Class A foaming agents, on Grassland and Wildfires. But remember, most Class A’s are simply reformulated Class B foams with the Fluorine PFAS removed, but they are Equally Invasive, which is why knowing your BOD is so essential.
If you are going to use firefighting foams on grassland or other landmasses, you have a high probability of contaminating the watercourse or water body due to leaching through the soil leading to a river. Water bodies such as Rivers, Ponds, Lakes and larger bodies such as Reservoirs all require oxygen to survive. The Bacteria present breaks down the levels of Biodegradable Organic Material to keep it healthy, so if you change the BOD in the water, it can quite literally Asphyxiate Aquatic Organisms, causing a pollution event. Thankfully, we do not have many large scale pollutions events in the UK. We do have LOTS of small ones though.
The most notable pollution events were in 1988 Camelford, Cornwall. This was due to a leak of Aluminium Sulphate, which got into the drinking water. The other in 2005 at Buncefield, Hertfordshire during an Oil Refinery explosion, one of the largest peacetime explosion that resulted in a huge fire. Over 32,000 litres of water mixed with AFFF per minute was used during its peak. 26,000,000 litres of contaminated water had to be disposed of after this event. After the Buncefield fire, the public first encountered PFOS and what it could do to a river and they were introduced to the term “forever chemicals.”
It is the EA’s (Environment Agency) role to ensure our water bodies are not polluted. If you are a firefighter, you may be familiar with the request from the EA to “stop using water” at waste recycling fire. The EA request is not because they want to hamper you from extinguishing the fire, but it’s down to the sheer volume of water used and runoff of many 000’s litres of water that might cause a potential pollution event.
This risk is calculated in several different ways. The volume of water used is one, as the runoff can overpower a water body, but they will also look at the firefighting foam used. Firefighting foams are required to carry out a BOD test. There are several tests, each based on a number of days, but the BOD 5 is tested over 5-days and provides a good indicator of the toxicity levels. Firefighting foams are known to be very toxic due to PFAS and yes, F3 are less toxic, but as mentioned, they are equally Invasive, the EA does not want to add further different toxic chemicals to an already nasty mix.
So we ask all our potential clients to do a little homework. Find out what the BOD 5 count is on your existing AFFF or F3 firefighting foams. Ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). This will show the environmental impact and other related usage precautions. We already know the answer to most types, but in 2016, the Western Australian Department of Environmental Regulation, with Queensland Department of Environmental and Heritage Protection looked at the environmental management and potential impact of the use of firefighting foams.
Over 70 firefighting foams were used in this review. Products like Cold Fire will not show in this report. The chart below indicates AFFF in Green and F3 in Blue. The test was based on a 5-day trial looking at concentrate. We have added Cold Fire below the main table to give you an indication of just where Cold Fire fits, and as you can see, it is well below any of the others. The table shows the averages of these foams.