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Use of PFAS-based firefighting foams

by Marcus
Environmental and health concerns are growing regarding fluorochemical-based formulations of firefighting foams

Use of PFAS-based firefighting foams

What kind of foam is AFFF?

AFFF is the acronym of Aqueous Film Forming Foam. AFFF is a class B firefighting foam. AFFF foam concentrate is mixed with water and used to extinguish class B water non-miscible flammable liquids fuels such as gasoline, oil, and jet fuel.

AFFF is a synthetic firefighting foam, made of hydrocarbon-based surfactants and fluorosurfactants (PFAS). Fluorosurfactants give film forming property to the foam. A thin film is created to lower surface of the water tension and spread rapidly over the fuel surface. It will block air supply and suppress fuel flammable vapors, resulting in faster fire extinguishment.

BIOEX provides C6-based AFFF firefighting foams: BIOFILM.

What kind of foam is AR-AFFF?

AR-AFFF is the acronym of Alcohol-Resistant Aqueous Film-Forming Foam. AR-AFFF is a class B firefighting foam, which performs on both hydrocarbon and polar solvent fires. AR-AFFF foam concentrate is proportioned with water and used to extinguish class B water-miscible liquids such as alcohol, ethanol, methanol and acetone.

AR-AFFF is a synthetic firefighting foam, composed of hydrocarbon surfactants, fluoro-surfactants (PFAS) and polymers. Polymer gives the AR-property and forms a protective film between the burning surface and the foam blanket. The AR-AFFF foam blanket resists foam destruction by polar solvent (water miscible fuel).

BIOEX offers C6-based AR-AFFF firefighting foams: FILMOPOL.

What is PFAS used for?

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic chemical substances and have been widely used for decades in a variety of applications such as nonstick cookware, fabrics, coatings…

Fluoro-surfactants contained in AFFF, AR-AFFF, FP or FFFP foams are part of this class of chemicals. Fluoro-chemicals contain carbon-fluor bonds, with varying carbon chain lengths (C8, C6…).

In firefighting foam applications, PFAS helps the foam flow rapidly over the fuel surface, lower the surface tension of water and give good foam stability over time.

Is AFFF banned?

Environmental and health concerns are growing regarding fluorochemical-based formulations of firefighting foams (such as AFFF, AR-AFFF, FP or FFFP). Certain PFAS have potential impact on the environment and health.

Traditionally, PFAS-based foams contained C8-long chain perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) or perluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Because of their persistence in the environment, they do not break down after use and will remain in the environment permanently. They are known to cause toxic health effects.

Since 2006, the use of C8-based foams has been restricted all over the world. The Stockholm Convention listed PFOS and its related substances as persistent organic pollutants (POP). A further restriction on the use of PFOA and its related substances was also adopted in 2017 by the European Commission, under REACH regulation.

These kind of long-chain PFAS-based foams are largely being phased out. PFAS-based foams are currently made of short-chain C6-fluorosurfactants, but do not contain any PFOS or PFOA. The PFAS in current fluorotelomer-based foams are shorter chain molecules and have less impact.

Use of PFAS-based firefighting foams
Use of PFAS-based firefighting foams

Depending on the country and the legislation, some PFAS-based foams are still used. Some parts of the world restrict or prohibit PFAS-based foams, including AFFF and AR-AFFF foams. Over the past few years, many states in the USA or in Australia have implemented regulations to prohibit the use of PFAS-based foams. There are plans for further regulations. Many fire departments are researching and transitioning to PFAS-free alternatives. This trend will continue into the near future but there will be exemptions and a transition period.

Does C6 foam contain PFAS?

C6-fluorosurfactants are part of PFAS chemicals (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). So, C6-based foams contain PFAS.
What can I use instead of PFAS-based foams, including AFFF and AR-AFFF?

To avoid the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam, some fluorine-free foams (F3) alternatives are available.

Some fluorine-free foams offer same or superior extinguishing performances and good resistance to burnback comparable to AFFF or AR-AFFF foams.

Fluorine-free foams are environmentally compatible. Non-fluorinated fire foams offer safer alternatives to protect the environment and human health.

PFAS-free firefighting foams cover most industrial and civil applications. They are approved under the same international standards (ICAO, EN1568, UL162, IMO…).

Use of PFAS-based firefighting foams

BIOEX fluorine-free foams achieve equal or best fire performance and burnback resistance compared to fluorinated foams. They form a stable foam blanket and are efficient on class A/B fires. BIOEX fluorine-free foams can be used at low, medium and high expansion.

They are compatible with most foam equipment on the market. They comply with Directives (EU) 2017/1000 on PFOA and 2019/1021 (EU POPs directive). Some BIOEX fluorine-free foams are GreenScreen certified (the first ecolabel for PFAS-free foams). BIOEX PFAS-free foams are successfully used by industrial fire services and municipal fire departments throughout the world

BIOEX has long experience in the production and research of fluorine-free foams. In 2002, BIOEX launched the first multipurpose class A/B fluorine-free foam: ECOPOL. To know more about the BIOEX range of fluorine-free foams (ECOPOL, ECOPOL Premium, BIO FOR, ECOPOL F3HC…), browse the selection of non-fluorinated foams.

Comparison video of AFFF and ECOPOL F3HC fluorine-free foam extinguishing performances on hydrocarbon fire (EN1568-3 fire test)

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