Regulatory demands for PFAS-free firefighting foam products are on the rise – but are the alternatives safer? – GreenScreen Certified™ meets this demand and more
Three years ago, in January 2020, Clean Production Action with Toxic-Free Future launched the GreenScreen Certified™ Standard for Firefighting Foam as the world’s first ecolabel for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-free* firefighting foam products. Aqueous film forming foams (AFFF), the dominant product for fighting Class B fires, are made with the PFAS and are responsible for widespread contamination of waterways and drinking water sources.
As awareness rose of the widespread contamination caused by the highly persistent and hazardous PFAS, which are known as the ‘forever chemicals’, demand for PFAS-free firefighting foam increased and to date, 35 PFAS-free and environmentally preferred products from 11 manufacturers now meet the rigorous requirements of GreenScreen Certified™. Certified products are evaluated by an independent third party to ensure full material disclosure and comprehensive ingredient hazard assessment.The certification goes beyond PFAS-free to also restrict thousands of other chemicals of concern in firefighting foam products.
To meet GreenScreen Certified requirements, manufacturers must: 1) disclose all intentionally added ingredients to a third party; 2) have zero intentionally added PFAS as well as thousands of other toxic chemicals; and 3) meet rigorous aquatic toxicity and total fluorine testing requirements.
As David Plant, former Global Product Manager of Firefighting Chemicals for Angus Fire, pointed out “Futureproofing against ever-tightening environmental standards can be as equally challenging as selecting a foam on fire performance. The best practice answer lies with the GreenScreen certification process. This independent, non-profit organization certifies the end product as a complete mixture, including impurities.”
Because of this comprehensive approach to PFAS-free and preferred chemistry, multiple states including Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin refer fire departments to GreenScreen for AFFF substitutes. As Jen Jackson, formerly with the San Francisco Department of the Environment stated, “GreenScreen Certified makes it simpler for purchasers to identify safer firefighting foams by certifying that they meet rigorous environmental and health criteria. As more PFAS-free firefighting foams become available we need to ensure these alternative products are not equally hazardous to firefighting personnel or the environment.”
On January 12, 2023 the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released a revised military specification (“mil spec”) for the purchase and use of firefighting foam free of PFAS.
This means, states across the U.S. will now be able to approve PFAS-free firefighting foam for land based, Class B fires, where previously fluorine free foams were not considered. Eleven states including California, Illinois, New York, and Washington have passed restrictions on AFFF, and this announcement from the DOD will spur wider expansion of the use of PFAS-free firefighting foams.
The revised mil spec will expand the market for PFAS-free foam. While health advocates praise this move, they are also calling for transparency and other safety considerations in new foam formulations. This opens the market to GreenScreen Certified foam products that also meet the performance requirements in the revised mil specs.
The GreenScreen certified product grid provides links to manufacturer websites where information about performance specifications, including Underwriters Laboratories Inc., National Fire Protection Association and other standards, can be viewed by insurance companies, fire departments, and other parties. Manufacturers should now indicate which certified products meet the revised mil spec performance requirement. This is an opportunity for manufacturers to submit new products designed to meet the mil spec for certification and to demonstrate their use of preferred chemistry for people and the planet in these new products.While both GreenScreen Certified and the mil spec require analytical testing for PFAS, the revised mil spec requires testing for up to 40 specific PFAS(1) of the thousands in this class, whereas GreenScreen Certified requires testing for total organic fluorine, used as a surrogate for capturing all PFAS. However, DOD has indicated their intent to expand PFAS testing in the future “once multiple laboratories have been accredited to conduct the testing.” Both the mil spec and GreenScreen Certified require aquatic toxicity testing, with the GreenScreen Certified criteria being more protective to aquatic life.
The best way for a purchaser to ensure the product they specify meets all of their performance requirements is to contact the manufacturer.
Because the GreenScreen Certified Standard is highly protective in criteria of human and environmental health, we anticipate strong market uptake of certified products. We urge DOD to adopt GreenScreen criteria and requirements so that new foams will be safer for water systems and firefighter health.
*PFAS-free is defined as zero intentionally added PFAS to the product and PFAS contamination in the product must be less than 0.0001 percent by weight of the product (1 part per million) total organic fluorine as measured by combustion ion chromatography.
For more information on Regulatory demands for PFAS-free firefighting foam products are on the rise, visit https://www.greenscreenchemicals.org/