OSCODA – Foam Exposure Committee (FEC) Co-Chairs Vicki Quint and Rich Nickeson have shared the group’s latest bulletin. It focuses on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Defense’s (DoD) action regarding aqueous film forming foam (AFFF).
As reported in this publication, AFFF contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and the foam was used at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) in Oscoda for firefighting and training purposes.
PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects, including cancers, increased cholesterol levels, decreased fertility in women, an increased chance of thyroid disease and changes in immune response.
Therefore, the mission statement of FEC reads as follows:
To reduce firefighter/first responder exposures to perfluorinated chemicals used in firefighting foams in order to protect their health and lives. We will recommend a list of firefighting products for fire departments based upon testing, which we believe have no intentionally added fluorine. First responders should have immediate access to safer fluorine-free firefighting foams.
Along with FEC’s Bulletin No. 11, dated Feb. 19, the group provided some background information on WAFB – the decommissioned U.S. Air Force (USAF) base which was used from 1920-1993. It is considered the first military-operated site with identified PFAS anywhere in the world.
The image which accompanies this story came from the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, now known as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
According to those from FEC, it depicts the Oscoda area site locations of PFAS contamination at WAFB. The section to the left hand side, just off the runway, is where a single aircraft crash occurred in 1988. The PFAS contamination plume shown going out from the crash was caused by the AFFF firefighting foam which was utilized. The plume flows under the runway, into the FT-02 plume and then continues into Clark’s Marsh.
Lake Huron can be seen at the far right of the image.
The first ranular activated carbon plant which the USAF installed is at FT-02, the former fire training area.
Quint adds that this draft map – showing groundwater plumes when PFAS were referred to as PFCs – was used by Dr. Jennifer Field of Oregon State University, during a recent webinar.
“She is involved in a study of forensically fingerprinting firefighting foams,” Quint explained. “This slide was for fire departments to see that even one application of AFFF firefighting foam can cause a huge contamination issue.”
Bulletin No. 11 from FEC states that the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the conversion from AFFF to fluorine-free firefighting foams by Oct. 4, 2021. The DoD must, according to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), complete conversion to fluorine-free firefighting foams by Oct. 2024. The DoD had previously taken action to discontinue using AFFF for training purpose . This had accounted for 93 percent of its AFFF use.
In planning for an AFFF replacement, as required in the fiscal year 2020 NDAA, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would cost DoD $35,000 per vehicle to retrofit to a new firefighting foam technology. However, DoD has learned from previous foam transitions that fully removing foams containing PFOS or PFOA from current systems will likely require replacement of almost every component of Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) vehicles. Based on DoD’s estimate, ARFF vehicle replacement may be required to meet the NDAA requirement .
AFFF production and usage have been banned in 180 countries except for use in emergencies. While it has been known to put out burning jet fuel, it is hazardous in its own right .
FEC is actively continuing to test firefighting foam samples for total fluorine content. The intent is to provide a clean listing of fluorine-free firefighting foams for fire departments to reference. At present, there are workable, fire tested products which are currently available as fluorine-free firefighting foams that have been used successfully for decades.
Quint says that FEC is focused on firefighters’ exposure to PFAS in firefighting foams. “We are a group of two retired fire chiefs, an apparatus dealer, a foam distributor, a retired military firefighter and me, a widow of a fire chief who died of multiple cancers.”
Along with testing the foams for PFAS, Quint says the committee is working on what fire departments are going to do as far as cleaning out their apparatus units.
She also states that the Madison Fire Department in Wisconsin is their poster child for changing over to fluorine-free foam, because of public pressure exerted on them after a downtown incident involving foam applications during transformer fires.
“It was not supposed to contain PFAS but it did and it contaminated nearby Lake Monona,” Quint says.
“I have worked within Wisconsin for the past five years on the PFAS issues especially since we had Lake Michigan contamination from JCI/Tyco in Marinette, Wisconsin for years,” she continued, adding that JCI/Tyco just settled that case for $17.5 million.
Although she has recently moved to Missouri, Quint is still working on the PFAS Steering Committee, and also serves on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources PFAS Technical Task Force.