Leading fire fighting foam manufacturers respond to hemmingfire.com’s report on The Madrid Statement

Published:  20 November, 2014

‘Short-chain (C6) Fluorotelomer-based AFFF Foams are neither bioaccumulative nor harmful.’

On October 27th hemmingfire.com published an article entitled: ‘Worldwide scientific community unites to highlight that PFASs substances are persistent and harmful – which includes C6 fluorinated AFFF foams’.

The article reported on The Madrid Statement, which documents scientific consensus regarding the persistence and potential for harm of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), and lays out a roadmap to gather needed information and prevent further harm.

The Fire Fighting Foam Coalition (FFFC) – a not-for-profit trade association whose members are manufacturers, distributors and users of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) fire fighting agents and their chemical components – has sent the following response:

Short-chain (C6) Fluorotelomer-based AFFF Foams are neither bioaccumulative nor harmful

The headline to the article posted October 27 is alarmingly misleading. The Helsingor and Madrid Statements referenced in the article do not say that the short-chain (C6) fluorochemicals used in modern AFFF agents are ‘harmful’. In fact, the Helsingor and Madrid Statements make no direct mention at all of the use of fluorochemicals in fire fighting foam. In addition, both statements note the scientific consensus that while short-chain fluorochemicals are persistent, they are ‘less bioaccumulative’ than long-chain fluorochemicals. Indeed, they are not considered PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic). It is disappointing that a leading fire protection industry website did not provide a more balanced and informed view of this issue.

The Helsingor Statement is published in a scientific journal and represents the views of six prominent researchers in the field of poly-and perfluorinated substances (PFASs). The Madrid Statement on the other hand was published by the Green Science Policy Institute, an environmental organization located in Berkeley, California, and many of its 177 signatories are non-scientists. Thus, it is inaccurate and a gross exaggeration to refer to either statement as representing the views of the ‘worldwide scientific community.’

The Helsingor and Madrid Statements broadly address the transition from long-chain PFASs to short-chain fluorinated alternatives, which are used in textiles, paints and coatings, adhesives, and fire fighting foams. They express concern for the ‘potential impacts’ and the ‘potential for harm’ from the widespread use of fluorinated alternatives. At the same time, both statements acknowledge the need to use fluorinated alternatives where they are ‘essential’ and have been found to be ‘indispensable.’ AFFF foams are the most effective agents currently available to protect life and high-value property from the risk of flammable liquid fires in military, oil and gas, municipal, and aviation applications. It seems reasonable to conclude that the signers of the two statements would consider the use of fluorinated alternatives in AFFF foams to meet those criteria. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a use of fluorochemicals that has a higher societal value than fire fighting foam.

One of the key concerns expressed in the two statements is that there is limited information available on the use, properties, chemical structures, and environmental impacts of fluorinated alternatives. While this may be true for some fluorinated alternatives, it is definitely not true for the short-chain (C6) fluorotelomer-based surfactants used in fire fighting foams. Short-chain fluorosurfactants have been used in fire fighting foams for more than 30 years. Their use patterns, quantities of use, chemical structures, and potential breakdown products are well known and have been published in numerous journal articles and industry reports. They have undergone extensive environmental testing that has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals, and have been shown to be low in toxicity and not bioaccumulative.

Another key concern expressed in the two statements is the possible need to use additional quantities of fluorinated alternatives to meet the same performance level as long-chain PFASs, thus increasing the environmental burden. While this may be true for some applications, it is not necessarily true for fire fighting foams. There have been AFFF agents on the market for 30 years that contain over 95% C6-based fluorosurfactants and meet the most challenging foam industry standards, such as US Mil-F-24385 specifications. In addition, manufacturers have developed new AFFF formulations using pure C6-based fluorosurfactants that can meet these same standards with fluorine levels well within historical ranges.

The fire protection industry understands the need to be good environmental stewards of the chemicals used to suppress fires and explosions. The foam industry began including information on methods to control, collect, treat, and properly dispose of foam discharges in its standards in 1998.  In recent years the industry has expanded that information to focus on minimizing discharges of all foams, and in some cases replacing the use of AFFF for training and equipment testing with alternative fluids and methods. Based on discussions at recent industry conferences, it appears that most foam users have already embraced these environmentally responsible practices.

It would be helpful in the future if this website would resist the temptation to overly sensationalize important and complex issues such as these, and instead provide fire professionals with the fact-based information they need.

FFFC Members: Angus Fire, Ansul, Chemguard, Dr. Sthamer, DuPont, Dynax, Eau & Feu, Fire Service Plus, Fomtec, ICL, Kerr Fire, Kidron, National Foam, Williams Fire & Hazard.

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