ARIZONA: Free PFAS Foam Disposal Cuts Firefighters’ Cancer Risk

firefighting foam

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 15, 2022 (ENS) – The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, ADEQ, has launched a free of charge “take-back and replace” pilot program to help select fire departments statewide by removing, disposing and replacing firefighting foam that contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, PFAS.

This group of more than 4,000 different manufactured compounds, has since 1940 been used in products from carpets to nonstick cookware to firefighting foams. Certain firefighting foams can be a major source of harmful PFAS release to the environment.

Commonly called “forever chemicals,” PFAS are persistent in the environment; human exposure has been linked to adverse health effects. A 2018 review from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, outlines the of health effects associated with PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. They affect the immune system and impact child development.

ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera said, “Protecting Arizonans and Arizona’s precious water resources from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances impacts is critical. In addition to posing risks to firefighters’ health, uncontrolled release of firefighting foam containing PFAS has the potential to create adverse impacts to our communities if it reaches drinking water, groundwater or surface water. ADEQ’s take-back and replace pilot program is an important action to protect public health and the environment in Arizona and part of our proactive PFAS mitigation strategy.”

Arizona law prohibits discharge or use of firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS for training or testing purposes unless required by law or done in a facility with proper containment, treatment and disposal measures.

Expensive to dispose of safely, aqueous film-forming foam that contains PFAS is primarily used to extinguish petroleum-based fires.

Many fire departments that have PFAS-containing foam in their inventories, due to its long shelf life, do not have the resources to cover safe disposal costs and also purchase an alternative foam.

Chemical-based firefighting foam or AFFF has been sold for decades because of its effectiveness in extinguishing jet fuel and petroleum fires. However, it may cause various types of cancer – most notably kidney, testicular, and pancreatic cancer – in firefighters who were regularly exposed to the foam, according to Sokolove Law, a Boston-based law firm specializing in these cases.

At particular risk are U.S. military firefighters, as the military widely used the foam for over 60 years, and firefighters assigned to airports, because airports required the use of the foam until 2018.

With an established fiscal year 2023 budget of $395,500, the ADEQ initiated its one-year take-back and replace pilot program earlier this year.

The ADEQ’s pilot program includes:

  • – Conducting a statewide survey of fire departments to identify whether they have firefighting foam containing PFAS in their inventory and whether their department is subject to federal regulations
  • – Using the survey results to determine fire departments’ eligibility and then identifying fire departments to invite to participate in the take-back and replace pilot program.
  • – Confirming pilot program details with eligible fire departments.
  • – Coordinating with participating fire departments to collect, transport and safely dispose of firefighting foam containing PFAS at an approved facility.
  • – Purchasing and providing PFAS-free replacement foam to participating fire departments free of charge to ensure firefighters can continue protecting their communities and the environment.

ADEQ understands that the priority of firefighters is to protect life and property and urges all emergency responders to take extreme care to minimize release of firefighting foam containing PFAS into the environment.

Based on the initial results from ADEQ’s statewide survey, fire departments self-reported 5,000 gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS in their current inventories.

ADEQ’s review of the survey results determined that nearly 3,000 of the 5,000 gallons total, were located in the inventories of 24 municipal fire departments that are eligible to participate in the take-back and replace pilot program. These 24 municipal fire departments are located in 14 counties.

The Department of Environmental Quality will reach out to these fire departments this month to confirm program participation details and plans to coordinate, conduct and complete the take-back and replace pilot program by the end of June 2023.

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