AFFF Foam Contamination: A Growing Public Health Crisis

The widespread use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) in firefighting and industrial contexts has unintentionally sparked a burgeoning public health crisis. Originally formulated to extinguish flammable liquid fires, this foam contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals known for their remarkable persistence in the environment.

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Due to its extensive application, AFFF has seeped PFAS into soil and water reservoirs, resulting in pervasive contamination. This alarming scenario has given rise to significant concerns regarding environmental safety and public health.

This contamination, now recognized as a significant public health crisis, has far-reaching consequences. Beyond environmental degradation, it poses severe risks to human health.

This article delves into the complex facets of the AFFF foam contamination crisis.

Introduction to AFFF Foam

AFFF plays a vital role in firefighting and industrial settings, effectively controlling flammable liquid fires. However, this foam contains PFAS, synthetic chemicals known for their enduring presence in the environment.

PFAS have been an integral component of fire retardant foams since their invention by Dupont in the 1930s and their widespread manufacturing by 3M. Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences notes that over the years, these compounds have accumulated in the environment. This has led to a significant ecological concern.

The U.S. military, notably, has been a major user of AFFF, utilizing it in fire training drills and firefighting on numerous bases globally. This extensive use has contributed substantially to PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Health Effects of AFFF Foam Exposure

The health risks associated with AFFF exposure are a growing concern, with numerous potential consequences for individuals and communities. One of the most alarming connections is the link between AFFF exposure and cancer.

Prolonged contact with PFAS found in AFFF has been associated with various forms of cancer, including kidney, testicular, pancreatic, and bladder cancer. Moreover, PFAS compounds can disrupt hormonal systems, potentially leading to endocrine disorders and reproductive issues. Liver damage is another significant concern, as PFAS exposure has been correlated with adverse impacts on liver function.

Amid these health concerns, the AFFF foam lawsuit has emerged as a means of seeking justice and compensation for those affected. Legal actions are driven by the need for accountability from AFFF manufacturers and those responsible for the contamination.

TorHoerman Law notes that this legal action offers hope for affected individuals and communities grappling with the detrimental consequences of exposure. These legal battles play a vital role in advocating for public health and demanding corporate responsibility in addressing this pressing issue.

Communities Affected by the Contamination

Communities across the United States have borne the brunt of AFFF contamination, with specific regions facing dire consequences. According to, a non-profit environmental advocacy group has recently unveiled an interactive water contamination map. The map reveals over 3,000 sites in 50 states, Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories afflicted by PFAS.

This contamination map paints a grim picture of the widespread impact of AFFF pollution, posing serious health risks to countless Americans. The majority of PFAS contamination in U.S. water sources stems from the use of AFFF, particularly in areas near military bases, airports, and firefighter training locations.

For decades, substantial volumes of these chemicals were routinely discharged into the environment, contributing significantly to water contamination.

Affected communities find themselves grappling with a myriad of challenges. This includes the burden of accessing clean drinking water, health concerns, and the economic and social repercussions of contamination. The plight of these communities underscores the urgency of addressing AFFF contamination and holding those responsible accountable for the crisis.

Mitigation and Remediation Efforts

Various initiatives have been launched to address this issue, including cleanup initiatives, water treatment technologies, and soil remediation methods. However, these efforts have their challenges.

One significant mitigation measure has been the change in requirements for emergency responders. Many fire departments, training facilities, and emergency response groups now mandate the use of self-contained breathing apparatuses when applying foam.

Furthermore, numerous states and training sites have prohibited the use of fluorinated foam for training purposes. These measures aim to reduce direct human exposure to the harmful chemicals found in AFFF.

BIC Magazine notes that to effectively remediate the environmental damage caused by AFFF contamination, several alternative solutions have been explored. They are:

  • Non-fluorinated foams: These foams use surfactants and additives that do not contain PFAS compounds. They aim to provide fire suppression capabilities similar to AFFF without the environmental persistence and health risks associated with PFAS.
  • High-expansion foams: Composed of a low concentration of surfactants, high-expansion foams create large volumes of foam that effectively suppress fires by separating the fuel source from oxygen. They are suitable for enclosed spaces and areas with limited access.
  • Inert gas systems: Systems using gases like CO2 or nitrogen displace oxygen from the fire area, creating an oxygen-deficient environment that inhibits combustion. They are ideal for protecting sensitive equipment or areas where water or foam could cause damage.
  • Water mist systems: These systems use fine water droplets to cool and suppress fires, reducing oxygen availability. They are effective for various fire types and do not involve the use of foam or PFAS.

While these alternatives hold promise, there are still challenges in their widespread adoption, cost-effectiveness, and adaptability to different firefighting scenarios. Moreover, addressing historical contamination and its long-term impacts remains a complex endeavor.


The AFFF contamination crisis stands as a profound challenge demanding urgent attention, innovative solutions, and steadfast commitment. The far-reaching impact of PFAS compounds on both human health and the environment underscores the critical need for comprehensive mitigation and remediation efforts.

While progress has been made, the journey toward resolving the AFFF contamination crisis is ongoing. With sustained efforts, the development and implementation of advanced technologies, and a collective determination, it is possible to mitigate the existing damage. Together, we can pave the way for a safer, cleaner future, free from the devastating consequences of AFFF contamination.

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2 Responses to AFFF Foam Contamination: A Growing Public Health Crisis

  1. Paul Fitzgibbons says:

    WOW!! I was not prepared to be kicked in the gut by one of your articles but this certainly did the trick! I became interested in PFAS and forever chemicals after watching Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters, and consider myself to be well-informed on the subject, but I was caught unawares by the info you present here. Thanks so much for this–gotta inform my mad scientist/co-author about your post and the implications it presents.

    • Paul Fitzgibbons says:

      Sorry, have to add this as well: whether or not you believe in climate change or not is immaterial: there are many more fires these brave firemen must combat now than ever before. Strange that more people haven’t connected ideas like this to “Hell on Earth…”

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