New findings from recent studies have revealed the possible harmful impacts linked to the utilization of firefighting foam. emphasized that the foam contains hazardous substances that can negatively affect the health of both humans and animals. Those who frequently come into contact with these chemicals face a significant risk of developing life-threatening diseases.

In this article, we examine the concerns surrounding fire suppression foam and its impact on human health.

Chemical Composition of Firefighting Foam

Firefighting foam comprises a range of chemicals, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are synthetic compounds. PFAS are characterized by their long-lasting presence in the environment and their tendency to accumulate in the human body over an extended period. These substances are incorporated into fire suppression foam because of their capacity to form a protective layer that inhibits the fire’s progression.

Recent research has indicated that being exposed to PFAS can lead to adverse health consequences. Scientific studies have established a connection between PFAS exposure and an elevated risk of cancer, disturbances in hormonal balance, reproductive problems, compromised immune system functionality, and developmental delays in children.

This raises concerns about the potential harm it can cause to firefighters, emergency responders, and individuals exposed to the foam. According to the New York Times, cancer is the biggest cause of death for firefighters nationwide, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health discovered that firefighters have a 14% greater chance of dying from cancer than the general population.

Environmental Contamination 

The utilization of fire suppression foam can result in substantial environmental contamination. When deployed during firefighting activities, PFAS chemicals can enter and permeate the soil, groundwater, and surface water, thereby leading to environmental pollution.

These chemicals have been detected in various environmental samples, including rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources near firefighting training facilities and areas where the foam has been used. The persistence and mobility of PFAS make them a significant environmental concern. 

Once released, they can persist for years and spread beyond the immediate firefighting site, impacting ecosystems and potentially entering the food chain through contaminated water or contaminated crops.

Occupational Exposure and Legal Action

Firefighters and other emergency responders who frequently handle fire suppression foam are at a higher risk of exposure. According to studies, firemen have higher amounts of PFAS in their blood than the general population. Prolonged occupational PFAS exposure can have long-term health repercussions for these people.

As the research connecting firefighting foam to serious illnesses has become a hot topic, numerous firefighters who are battling with serious conditions such as cancer have filed a firefighting foam lawsuit against the manufacturers. The lawsuits claim that the manufacturers of firefighting foam were aware of the potential health risks associated with PFAS exposure but failed to adequately warn its users.

According to TorHoerman Law, such lawsuits require strong evidence to establish a link between the use of firefighting foam and the development of serious illnesses. Since the legal process can be complex and challenging, it is essential to choose your legal representation carefully. An experienced attorney with a background in product liability or personal injury law can significantly impact the outcome of your case.

Drinking Water Contamination 

Fire suppression foam used in training exercises or during fire incidents can contaminate drinking water sources. PFAS chemicals have been found in drinking water supplies near firefighting training sites and airports where the foam is commonly used. These chemicals are highly soluble and can easily leach into groundwater, leading to the contamination of wells and water treatment facilities. 

Traditional water treatment processes are often ineffective at removing PFAS, leaving communities at risk of consuming contaminated water. Long-term PFAS exposure through drinking water can have negative health consequences such as liver damage, immune system malfunction, and an elevated risk for specific diseases.

Regulatory Actions and Alternatives 

In response to the emerging evidence on the health risks associated with fire suppression foam, regulatory bodies, and governments are taking action to address the issue. Some countries have implemented bans or restrictions on the use of PFAS-containing foams, particularly for non-emergency situations like training exercises. 

According to an article by TÜV SÜD, at least 12 states in the U.S., including Connecticut and California, have prohibited or initiated legislation to prohibit the chemicals used in firefighting, and there are regulations in the works for food packaging materials that include PFAS.

These regulatory measures aim to minimize the release of PFAS into the environment and reduce human exposure. Furthermore, there is a growing emphasis on finding safer alternatives to fire suppression foam that are effective in combating fires while posing fewer health risks. Promising alternatives include high-expansion foam, water mist systems, and compressed air foam systems. 

Final Word

The use of firefighting foam in firefighting operations has been linked to serious health and environmental hazards. The chemicals contained in the foam, notably PFAS, have been linked to a variety of negative health impacts, including cancer, hormone disturbances, and developmental abnormalities. 

Firefighters and emergency personnel who often handle foam are more likely to be exposed. Furthermore, the release of toxic chemicals into the environment results in long-term pollution of soil, groundwater, and surface water, endangering habitats and potentially infiltrating the food chain. 

As a result, regulatory steps are being taken to limit or prohibit the use of PFAS-containing foams, and attempts are being made to develop safer replacements. Prioritizing both efficient firefighting and the health of people and the environment remains a significant challenge in the sector.