How does Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF) work?

AFFF has been used for the last 50 years to extinguish class B fires by both civilian and military firefighters, as it is very effective. However, it contains PFOS and PFOA, two groups of dangerous chemicals.

answered by Gregory A. Cade

How do AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) extinguishers work?

For the last 50 years AFFF has been used by civilian and military firefighters to extinguish class B fires, namely fires that are caused by flammable liquids such as:

  • Gasoline
  • Tars
  • Petroleum greases
  • Oils
  • Alcohols
  • Solvents

To extinguish a fire, AFFF acts in two phases:

  • Separation effect: the foam blanket suppresses oxygen supply to the flammable material and prevents combustible evaporation
  • Cooling effects: AFFF can rapidly spread on the surface of flammable liquids and form a dense and stable foam layer that acts a physical barrier against the heat and mass transfer, thus exhibiting excellent cooling and covering isolation effects in hydrocarbon fires, or pool fire - a fire fueled by hydrocarbon compounds like oil and gas

The PFAS chemicals from AFFF are persistent in the environment and in the human body

The PFAS chemicals present in firefighting foam are well-known carcinogens. The breakdown of these chemicals is very slow. Anyone exposed to AFFF will have those carcinogens in their body for a long time, often the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, until the 1990s, firefighters and those in the military were told it was safe.

PFAS may be orally ingested, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled through exposure in the atmosphere. According to medical research, some PFAS may have adverse effects in humans, and have potentially been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, infertility, high cholesterol, obesity, and compromised immune system, to name a few. Thereby, firefighters and military personnel who regularly used AFFF and came to suffer from a related disease are eligible for compensation from the manufacturers which produced it.

Legal assistance for the victims of AFFF exposure

Most of the people exposed to AFFF are either firefighters or in the U.S. military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lists medical conditions possibly associated with AFFF exposure:

If you or a loved one are suffering the side effects of AFFF exposure, contact Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. today, as you may be entitled to compensation. After reviewing your medical history and AFFF exposure, we will discuss your options. That may include joining a class-action lawsuit against various companies, including 3M, that manufactured and distributed it, or/and disability compensation and treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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