Safety concerns have been raised recently following a number of news stories linking fire fighting foam to cases of water contamination and personal injury. Although the incidents in question took place in the USA, they have provoked worry in the UK, where fire fighting foam is widely used by fire fighters, military and civilian businesses as well as airports and shipping.
What is the background to this story, and what are the dangers associated with fire fighting foam? In this article, we give an overview of the controversy and propose a way for you to avoid such risks in your own fire prevention strategy.
Is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) safe?
AFFF is used throughout the USA by public firefighting departments, as well as by private business, offices and factories. It has historically been seen as a safe and effective fire suppressant, but two recent incidents at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have thrown this into question.
The first involved an injury to a firefighter during a training exercise on the base. Michael Strouse, an experienced firefighter, was injured when a fire fighting pipe burst and sprayed his face with high pressure fire suppressant. He immediately began to experience the symptoms of chemical burns, as well as difficulty breathing and sore eyes. The condition worsened over the following 24 hours, leading to Strouse being signed off work for three months.
At the same time, two drinking water wells on the base needed to be closed as result of suspected groundwater contamination from AFFF use. The two incidents have prompted a nationwide review of the use of AFFF fire suppressant by the US Defence Department, as there are concerns that the dangers are more widespread than currently recognised. Early reports from another Air Force Base in Colorado have suggested another link to groundwater contamination, indicating that there may be many more undiscovered cases.
Dangers to health and the environment.
The risk of personal injury after direct exposure to chemicals is something that all fire suppressant manufacturers must strive to reduce. However, environmental dangers from water contamination pose a much more widespread and insidious risk to human health. This is due to the potentially dangerous compounds contained in AFFF.
The most hazardous components are two perfluorinated compounds:
- Perfluoro-octane sulfonic Acid (PFOS)
- Perfloro-octanoic Acid (PFOA)
The AFFF tested in Colorado contained 20 times the recommended safe level of each of these compounds.
What are the health risks?
If leached into the water supply in sufficient quantities, perfluorinated compounds can cause a wide range of serious, long-term health risks. These include:
- A number of cancers, including kidney and testicular cancer.
- Increased cholesterol and obesity
- Thyroid disruption
- Ulcerative colitis
- Liver damage
- Complications in pregnancy leading to low birth weights in new-born babies.
These are clearly serious issues, and although there are other sources of perfluorinated compounds than firefighting foam, if water contamination is a risk, then any environmental release must be managed or controlled – better still prevented!
Impact in the UK.
So far, there have been no investigations into the safety of firefighting foam in the UK, but many businesses are pre-empting a possible investigation by reviewing the fire suppressant foams they use. And that’s not to say that there won’t be additional regulations introduced in the UK as a result of this. Environmental and health and safety regulations become more stringent with each passing year. Prevention is also better than cure, so it is far more cost-effective to pre-empt the risk of contamination and personal injury, rather than deal with it after the event.
The Fire Safe alternative
We are happy to confirm that the fire suppressant foam we provide has none of the risks associated with its US equivalent. Our foam is manufactured by Solberg, one of the world’s premier producers of environmentally friendly fire fighting foam. Not only is Solberg foam highly effective in suppressing fires, but is also guaranteed to be free of all toxic organohalogen compounds. The risk of water contamination, or chemical injury to users, is, therefore minimal. What is more, our Solberg foam comes with an environmental warranty that guarantees it will meet any new environmental legislation. So you can have peace of mind that your foam will remain compliant, regardless of any new legislation that comes in.
If you currently use AFFF or are concerned about the safety of your fire suppressant, speak to one of our fire safety experts to discuss the alternatives. We have a wide range of affordable, safe and environmentally friendly firefighting products that protect against fire risk while ensuring the safety of your team. Call 01743 761 000 today to speak with one of our advisers.