Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used since the mid-20th century. These chemicals are renowned for their heat, water and oil resistance, making them valuable in various industrial applications, including firefighting foam. Firefighting foam, commonly known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), has been extensively used by firefighters to extinguish gasoline-based fires.
But while firefighting foam has undoubtedly saved lives and protected property, its long-term impact on the environment and human health is cause for alarm. As a forever chemical, PFAS does not rise away or break down in nature. Instead, it accumulates over decades wherever they are—including inside the human body.
How was AFFF introduced to firefighting?
The US Navy was the first to use AFFF because the chemical effectively put out jet-fuel-based fires on aircraft carriers. Gradually, its use spread to various military bases and private and commercial airports. By the time AFFF’s toxicity was understood, it had been used nationally and continuously for decades — and there is every indication that major chemical suppliers, such as DuPont, 3M and Chemours, knew of the dangers to both the environment and human beings.
During training exercises at military bases and real jet-fuel fires at airports, firefighters spray foam flows into the surrounding soil and often seeps into groundwater, causing large-scale environmental pollution. A Government Accountability Office report from 2021 estimates that as many as 700 military sites may have contaminated the surrounding environment with firefighting foam.
Could forever chemicals have contaminated the US public water systems?
One of the most significant concerns surrounding forever chemicals is their impact on water sources. AFFF containing PFAS has been utilized during firefighting training exercises and emergencies, leading to these chemicals’ infiltration into groundwater and surface water bodies. As a result, local communities and their water supplies are at risk of exposure to harmful levels of PFAS.
In addition to water contamination, soil pollution due to PFAS has become a pressing issue. The repeated use of firefighting foam and improper disposal methods have contributed to the accumulation of PFAS in soil. This contamination poses threats to agriculture, affecting the growth of crops and potentially entering the food chain.
If you believe you may have been sickened by exposure to toxic chemicals like these, find out more about your legal options.