News Feature | November 2, 2017

Following PFC Contamination, Navy Looking Into New Firefighting Foam

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

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The federal government has been under fire all year for the military’s historic use of perflourinated compounds (PFCs) in firefighting agents, which have gone on to contaminate water supplies.

As contamination continues to be uncovered and consumers grapple with the health effects of ingesting PFCs, the armed forces are confronting the root of the problem. In Virginia, this means replacing the contaminants completely.

“Firefighting foam is used by the Defense Department to quickly extinguish fires and prevent them from reigniting, but the foam used since the 1970s has contained perflourinated compounds,” reported The Virginia-Pilot. “The Navy is researching new types of firefighting foam free of contaminants that were found in well water near a landing field used by fighter jets and in water systems near several other military installations around the country, according to a congressional watchdog report.”

The U.S. EPA still views PFCs as emerging contaminants and there are no federal restrictions for the compounds. Still, PFCs are known to cause adverse health effects if ingested.

“While the evidence is inconclusive … some studies in humans have shown that certain PFC/PFAS may be associated with development delays in the fetus and child, including possible changes in growth, learning, and behavior, decreased fertility and changes to the body’s natural hormones, increase cholesterol, changes to the immune system, increased uric acid levels, changes in liver enzymes, and prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer,” per a Navy website.

The Navy said it has spent more than $20 million looking into whether PFCs have contaminated the water near 47 installations and have spent $24 million on mitigation efforts for five of those sites. Meanwhile, it is looking into a fundamental solution for dangerous firefighting foam.

“Navy Air Systems Command, the Naval Research Laboratory in Arlington and a private firefighting foam manufacturer each are researching the development of a PFC-free firefighting foam, which the Defense Department believes would reduce the environmental impact of training while keeping personnel safe,” The Virginia-Pilot reported. “The research will cost $2.5 million and is expected to be completed in 2020.”

To read more about problems posed by PFCs visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Navy visit," Bente Jonsson, 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/