Firefighting Foam Pollution

PFAS Water Contamination

The Environmental Litigation Group (ELG) currently represents hundreds of public entities and individuals whose water supplies are contaminated with chemicals known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. This is a family of chemicals used to create nonstick, stain resistant, and waterproof products as well as industrial products including certain fire-fighting foams. Several companies made PFAS-containing products despite knowing that toxic PFAS compounds would be released into the environment when used by customers as instructed and intended.

What is PFAS?

PFAS is a class of thousands of man-made chemical compounds known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The most notorious of these are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), two chemicals used to create many nonstick, stain resistant, and waterproof products. These are also the chemicals used in the manufacturing of aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, a fire-fighting agent used to fight fires in many locations world-wide, including military bases, airports, petroleum refineries, industrial facilities, fire departments, and fire training centers.

Because of environmental and human health concerns, manufacturers ceased production of PFOS in 2002; manufacturers likewise agreed to stop producing PFOA in 2006.

Once released into the environment through dispersal or improper disposal of a product, PFAS persist in the environment. These compounds are water-soluble and do not readily adsorb into sediments or soil; they tend to stay in the water column. Because these chemicals resist breaking down, scientists have found them globally — in water, soil, and air as well as in human food supplies, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, and human blood serum. These chemicals are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment. Both PFOA and PFOS are known animal carcinogens and are likely human carcinogens. Given their potential health risks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the manufacturers to reduce their use of these chemicals. EPA announced that it will soon regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water and recently issued Health Advisory Levels for PFOA (0.004 parts per trillion, or ppt) and PFOS (0.02 ppt) in drinking water.

AFFF manufacturers had the technology to produce AFFF with safer chemicals from as early as the 1960s. However, these manufacturers knowingly chose to make and sell AFFF with PFOA and PFOS. Cities, towns, and neighborhoods surrounding locations where AFFF was dispersed into the environment have reported contaminated groundwater and soil in their communities. Chemical manufacturers can be held liable for their negligence. Litigation against these companies has resulted in the recovery of billions of dollars, much of which has been applied toward the cost of cleanup efforts.

Firefighting Foam Pollution

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) chemicals have been responsible for groundwater contamination near military bases and airfields across the country. Officials at locations finding this chemical in their water supplies often need to file lawsuits due to the financial expense of cleaning it up and the health implications for people in their communities.

AFFFs were developed to fight flammable liquid fires. Researchers have traced these chemicals to groundwater contamination near many current and former military bases where foams were used. They have also been found at airfields throughout the U.S

Municipalities with contaminated sites should be aware of the potential for impact on their water supplies and the costs associated with cleanup. They may want to consider a lawsuit to recoup these cleanup costs.

Water Providers Impacted Around the Country

According to an analysis by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, more than 1,500 drinking water systems in the United States, serving up to 110 million people, may be contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, and similar chemicals. EWG has published an interactive map that identifies water providers around the country that have been impacted by these chemicals. Much of this contamination can be attributed to the use of AFFF. Removing these chemicals is costly, and water providers should not have to face these financial burdens.