Removing Forever Chemicals from AFFF: Findings by NIST Researchers

The life of a firefighter is difficult during and after their duty hours. If you thought that once they extinguish the fire flames, save people, and ensure minimal property damage, they are out of danger–there’s more for you to know. The firefighter foam they use is the reason for their suffering, as it contains PFAS, which is a carcinogen and causes a wide range of health hazards.

In January 2024, the EHS Daily Advisor mentioned that last year, lawsuits against leading chemical manufacturers resulted in a settlement amount of $11 billion. And this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding more awareness and regulations about the harmful effects of PFAS. As a result, the flurry of lawsuits can go up, which will lead to increased settlements.

CT Mirror in January 2024 reported on Connecticut filing two lawsuits accusing the chemical manufacturers of concealing the side-effects of PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’. The litigation has been filed at the Hartford Superior Court. As legal processes are on, initiatives are also being taken to remove PFAS from firefighter foam. The NIST researchers have talked about one such attempt. 

In this article, we will discuss the findings of these researchers to get clarity on their claims.

PFAS and Its Side Effects

Before we proceed to the findings, let us understand why such an effort was needed. The PFAS contained in firefighter foam makes it effective in extinguishing fuel-based fires. The foam works by spreading over the fire flames and stopping them from getting reignited by completely suppressing fuel vapors and the oxygen flow.

Since this foam can resist chemical changes and heat, it takes time to break down. That means it stays in the environment and humans, causing a wide range of ailments, including various kinds of cancers.

A few common ones are:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Testicular cancer

That aside, the foam can also result in increased cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, altered liver enzymes, and low birth weight in infants. People who have suffered from these ailments can file an AFFF foam lawsuit to recover the damages and suffering they have endured.

However, since firefighting as a profession needs to exist to help manage fire accidents, it is necessary to find out how to curb the side effects of AFFF. While there is research being done on the efficacy of fluorine-free alternatives, it helps to find out if the ‘forever chemicals’ can be removed from the foam. 

Eliminating PFAS from AFFF: What NIST Researchers Have to Say?

Keeping in mind the health concerns posed by PFAS, the DOD (Department of Defense) is looking at ways to remove materials that have forever chemicals. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act states that DOD is required to stop buying AFFF from manufacturers by October 2023 and stop using the products altogether by October 2024.

To assist this phaseout, the NIST researchers collaborated with DOD on a range of AFFF reference materials (RMs) that include PFAS. While the phaseout process is underway, the earlier stocked AFFFs are available for use. The RMs will assist organizations in recognizing foams that have PFAS to eliminate them from being used.

The manufacturers want to cater to the new military conditions for the foams to have less than 1 ppm (parts per million) of PFAS. If there is more, it is essential to dispose of it correctly.

Recently, the NIST came up with four RMs that have various PFAS formulations in foams. All four types have several PFAS that are present in legacy AFFFs, which will be phased out soon. All these RMs are effective for labs that are keen to test the chemical. Additionally, the RMs will assist the military industry in buying the correct alternative for fire suppressants.

According to Jessica Reiner, a NIST chemist, since the military should stop buying these foams, it is essential to check new foams to see if they contain PFAS. Using the RMs, they can check for the same.

The NIST researchers have also forwarded the RMs to various labs for testing in an interlaboratory study. They found out that leading scientists found it challenging to measure PFAS in a foam state. Hence, the researchers had come up with new RMs, in a certain way, for every single formulation to get diluted for easy use.

The RMs can also be used by the U.S. Department of Transportation, academic institutions, and analytical labs. Reiner said that any person linked with the toxicology team can make use of the RMs for their scientific experiments, for instance, delivering compound doses to study the effect they have on human cells. It will help to come up with useful findings that will help in initiatives taken to reduce the side effects of PFAS.

Walking the Legal Path

While new scientific studies are being made on eliminating PFAS from AFFF, it is necessary to address the harm that has already been done. Today, there are civilian and military firefighters who have developed cancer after getting affected by AFFF exposure. It is necessary to provide them with the required compensation amount so that they can pay for their medical costs and other losses.

TruLaw states that a lawyer is key to obtaining your financial compensation after filing a lawsuit. They will determine your eligibility to file a claim and will make use of the correct evidence and medical data to build a compelling case. They also let you know about your settlement payout, which can range between $10,000 and $300,000 based on your duration of exposure, degree of suffering, and medical data.

In conclusion, ‘forever chemicals‘ are the reason many firefighters suffer from debilitating cancer at a later stage of their lives. While it is necessary to file a lawsuit after getting affected by this toxic foam, it is also necessary to know about the latest developments related to PFAS. The NIST researchers shared their findings to remove PFAS from the firefighter foam. It is essential to stay tuned to such findings to know whether the claims can stand the test of time.

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