AFFF Health Hazards: Are Fluorine-Free Alternatives Beneficial?

Not everyone is aware of what firefighters have to face after they are done with the heroic task of rescuing people from a fire hazard. Since 1966, they have been using AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), a fire suppressant used for extinguishing Class B fires steeming from flammable gasses and liquids, such as jet fuel, petroleum, gasoline, lacquers, and alcohol.

But over the years, this firefighting foam has led to both human health risks and environmental hazards. It is due to the presence of PFAS (Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances), which are called ‘forever chemicals’ because they stay in the environment and the human body, causing harm to both.

AFFF composition comprises 50% to 98% of PFAS. When people get exposed to this chemical, it can lead to testicular, prostate, and kidney cancer. It also causes fertility issues, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, liver damage, and preeclampsia. 

All these threats have compelled several people to file lawsuits against AFFF manufacturers and claim suitable compensation. Considering the dangers of AFFF, fluorine-free foam alternatives are available. In this article, we will discuss the health hazards of this toxic foam and understand how beneficial the alternatives are.

AFFF Exposure and Its Side Effects

Military professionals and firefighters are at maximum risk of getting affected by AFFF. But people can also get exposed to this chemical by drinking water or consuming food in any contaminated area. This toxic chemical can pollute groundwater, air, and soil in areas where AFFF was stored, manufactured, or even used for extinguishing fires.

The process of using AFFF for firefighting translates to using a vast quantity of this substance to fight oil fires. And much of it gets aerosolized while it is being used. Just in case there is a strong wind or an unwarranted flood, these chemicals get transferred to the local environment, causing harm to it and humans.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the medical conditions that occur due to AFFF exposure include:

  • Fetal damage
  • Asthma
  • Fertility problems
  • Child development issues
  • Unhealthy changes in the immune system
  • Low birth weight
  • Liver damage
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension

Furthermore, studies have linked AFFF to cancer as well. Anyone exposed to this chemical, either from drinking water or inhaling it, will have carcinogens in their body for a long period. People carry it within them for their whole lives.

Nearly half of these chemicals tend to leave the human body within ‌four to five years. Since it’s a man-made chemical, its total breakdown might take close to 100 years. As a result, it can lead to pancreatic, liver, bladder cancer, and lymphoma.

The ailment that a person gets affected by depends to a huge extent on their duration of exposure to AFFF and its concentration. And this also plays an essential role for the judge in deciding the AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts for the victims who have filed a legal complaint.

TruLaw states that today, more than 2,500 AFFF lawsuits have been consolidated in the MDL. Leading manufacturers like Corteva, Chemours, and DuPont have agreed to pay as much as $4 billion as a settlement amount for various PFAS contamination lawsuits. 

Hence, if you or anyone you know has been affected by this toxic foam, you can file a legal complaint with the help of a lawyer. They will guide you through the process and ensure that you get justice and fair compensation.

Are Fluorine-Free Alternatives Useful?

Today, people are resorting to fluorine-free firefighting foam to stay away from the fatal health hazards of AFFF. The question is whether it is beneficial, has brought about any change, or requires more work.

On the surface, this synthetic fire suppressant comprises surfactant blends. In some cases, it consists of polysaccharides. Hence, this alternative to AFFF works by developing a bubble blanket above the fire blaze. The foam comprises solvents, water, and hydrocarbon surfactants instead of PFAS. Hence, it is considered to be less harmful in comparison to AFFF and has a reduced environmental impact.

But the fluorine-free firefighting foam isn’t free from solvents, detergents, and surfactants. Over the years, exposure to these substances can result in anxiety, irritability, concentration problems, and very slow reflexes in firefighters who use this foam.

That aside, the foam tends to be viscous, which causes proportioning issues. Hence, today manufacturers are trying to work on fluorine-free firefighting foam to remove these gray areas and ensure that the advantages are greater and the disadvantages vanish with time.

To sum up, there are people other than firefighters, airport staff, military, and chemical plant workers who can get affected by AFFF. Exposure to this foam can cause cancer and other debilitating ailments, which can affect one’s earning capacity and add to challenges and trauma in life. While filing a legal complaint is essential, it is also necessary to search for safe alternatives.

Today, fluorine-free firefighting foam does feature as a better option to AFFF, but manufacturers still need to address a few problems to make it the ideal choice.

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