Characterization of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances on fire suppression system piping and optimization of removal methods

By Johnsie R. Lang, Jeffery McDonough, T. C. Guillette, Peter Storch, John Anderson, David Liles, Robert Prigge, Jonathan AL Miles, and Craig Divine
September 19, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.136254

Fire suppression systems are known to be impacted with residual, entrained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) because of historical use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and fluoroprotein foam. Amphiphilic PFASs aggregate at liquid:solid interfaces creating a hydrophobic layer which reduces the effectiveness of water to remove PFAS from layered surfaces. When fire suppression systems are transitioned to fluorine free foam (F3) without appropriate cleaning, residual PFASs associated with the surfaces of the fire suppression system can contaminate the replacement F3. Release of residual PFASs from fire suppression systems into F3 has been documented; however, little is known about the residual PFASs associated with the surfaces of the fire suppression systems. More information is needed to develop methods to appropriately remove PFASs from fire suppression systems to prevent costly and inefficient foam transitioning and preserve the PFAS-free benefit of F3. The objective of this work was to evaluate the distribution and composition of PFASs on hangar piping exposed to PFAS-containing firefighting foam for a prolonged period. Two assessment methods were used: 1) extractions with methanol, water, and a proprietary aqueous organic solvent (Fluoro Fighter™); and 2) direct imaging methods of the surface. Extractions were analyzed with mass spectrometry and combustion ion chromatography. Results indicate pipe in contact with PFAS-containing firefighting foam can amass approximately 10 μg/cm2 of surface-associated PFAS residual following decades of exposure. Fluoro Fighter demonstrated higher PFAS removal per surface area of pipe than methanol (p = 0.007) or water extraction (p < 0.0001). Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of the hangar piping reveal deposits suspected to be self-assembled PFAS layers, as evidenced by examination of pipe surfaces using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), which revealed atomic fluorine on the surface of the pipe.


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