Foam Transition: Is it as simple as "foam out/foam in"?

By Ian Ross and Peter Storch | The Catalyst | June 5, 2020

Read the full article by Ian Ross and Peter Storch (The Catalyst)

"Dramatically escalating scientific, regulatory, public, political and press attention to the environmental and human health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) is leading to the development of increasingly conservative (low) regulatory levels for PFAS in drinking water [1-3]. As an increasing number of drinking water supplies are discovered to be impacted with PFASs above levels deemed to be safe, numerous impacted communities are instigating litigation against end users and manufacturers of aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) and fluoroprotein foams. As a result, the ongoing use of firefighting foams containing these “forever chemicals” is under significant scrutiny [4].

As an increasing number of PFASs, including both long chain (C8) and shorter chain (C6, C4 etc.) are regulated in drinking water, surface waters, soils and groundwater [5, 6] and the application of firefighting foams containing PFASs are being curtailed in multiple jurisdictions, many foam users are transitioning to using fluorine free firefighting (F3) foams [7, 8]. The historical regulatory focus has been on three individual “long chain” highly bioaccumulative PFASs, namely perfluorooctane sulphonic acid (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulphonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). However, an expanding range of PFASs are now regulated in many locations [9- 35].

The effective use of F3 foams in most fire protection scenarios is supported by a growing body of independent testing data on increasingly larger scale applications. For example, independent tests performed by LASTFIRE demonstrate comparable performance between F3 and PFAS-based foams such as the “C6-pure” AFFF in some large diameter tank fire simulations [36]. LASTFIRE continues to expand testing to include other hazards and scenarios. After having carried out extensive testing and due diligence on alternatives to AFFF, Equinor (formerly Statoil), a major Scandinavian petrochemical company, switched completely to F3 foams in 2013 for both its onshore and offshore (North Sea) operations [8]. As firefighting activities represent one of the most environmentally emissive uses of these extremely persistent and highly mobile anthropogenic chemicals, through both training exercises and incident response, the uses of PFASs in firefighting are perceived to cause an increased potential for environmental contamination. Historical and ongoing use of AFFF and fluoroprotein foams can generate long term soil or concrete highly concentrated ‘source areas’ of PFASs, which can potentially generate large plumes of PFASs dissolved in groundwater and/or impact surface waters meaning PFASs can travel well beyond the original source area, with some PFAS plumes impacting more than 250 km2 of groundwater [37]."