How to Phase Out PFAS Forever Chemicals in Fire Fighting Foams

PFAS has been associated with cancer and environmental problems, leading to bans in 12 U.S. states.

PFAS has been associated with cancer and environmental problems, leading to bans in 12 U.S. states.

Why Governments are Banning Certain Fire Foams

Environmental concerns, health issues, and a growing number of government bans has led many businesses to reexamine the foam in their fire protection systems. Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) is highly effective at fighting fires – particularly hazardous flammable liquid fires. But those foams likely contain PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) a “forever chemical” deemed unsafe for people’s health and the environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that high levels of certain PFAS may lead to increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine response in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weights, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer. It has also been linked to Hodgkin’s lymphoma and kidney, testicular, prostate, and ovarian cancers, according to a study of 70,000 people by researchers at Boston University, the University of California Irvine, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Interested in learning more about fire foam bans? Contact us today.

PFAS in firefighting foams and firefighter equipment has been associated with higher cancer rates in the profession. The New York Times reports that cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters across the country and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters are at a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population.

This has led to widespread bans of PFAS in firefighting foams. At least 12 states including California and Connecticut have banned or introduced laws to ban the chemicals for firefighting purposes, and there are bans for food packaging materials that contain PFAS in various stages of development as well.

What Fire Foam PFAS Bans Mean for Your Business

Chemical plants, oil refineries, manufacturing facilities, and fire services are now forced to reexamine their fire protection systems. In some cases, they will have to remove old systems and install completely new ones. In other instances, they can switch to alternative forms of protection, like water-based systems.

In most cases, the PFAS bans do not require that companies replace their foams immediately. But once they discharge, they need to be replaced with environmentally friendly foams or alternatives. “Drop in” substitutes are not available and they are typically not as effective at fighting flammable liquid fires.  There are many parallels to the phase-out of Halon about 20 years ago. Determining which alternatives are best for your unique risks may require the help of a trained risk management expert.

Use a Risk Assessment to Replace Fire Foams Responsibly

Business leaders and risk managers need a plan to responsibly convert their systems from PFAS-containing fluorine foams to other foams. They need to be prepared for new governmental bans and be ready if the system discharges accidentally or the existing foam is used to extinguish a fire.

That takes a thorough risk assessment from expertly trained engineers. They can evaluate the probability of the system discharging and the aftereffects. They can also help guard against a situation where there is a gap in protection.

Here are just some of the questions a risk assessment engineer will ask themselves as they examine your facility:

  • Can you protect your facility with a water-based system? 
  • Can you use a fluorine free foam alternative? 
  • Will another extinguishing agent work better in your particular scenario? Perhaps an aerosol agent?
  • Is installing a draining floor system an option to minimize the effects of a combustible liquid fire? 
  • Is the risk small enough that you can let a fire in an isolated, fire-rated storage room just burn out?
  • Would letting a fire burn lead to other hazardous environmental releases?
  • Are you in danger of a public relations crisis if smoke from your facility engulfs a nearby neighborhood?
  • Can you store existing foam chemicals in a way that minimizes risk of discharge while you can install a replacement system?
  • If the risk is deemed too great, can you set up a new system without removing the old one so there is no lapse in protection?

Why Choose TÜV SÜD Global Risk Consultants for Your Fire Foam Phase Out

TÜV SÜD has decades of experience providing fire inspection and certification services for buildings, infrastructure and industrial facilities. As a neutral third-party organization, we provide impartial and unbiased inspection and assessment services that help you make data-driven, strategic decisions.

To best meet your specific needs, TÜV SÜD GRC engineers will work with you to develop a custom-tailored Fire Loss Prevention Service Plan. We perform thousands of inspections each year, analyzing the unique risk management requirements of each client. These inspections range from basic property reviews, followed by a short summary report, to full “HPR (Highly Protected Risk)”-style inspections in which all protective equipment is operationally tested, and detailed narrative-style reports are issued with COPE (i.e. construction, occupancy, protection, exposures) data supplements.

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