A Closer Look at the Hazards: Toxic Substances in Firefighting Foam

A Closer Look at the Hazards: Toxic Substances in Firefighting Foam

Firefighting foam, also known as fire suppressant foam or firefighting foam concentrate, is a vital tool used to combat flammable liquid fires. While its effectiveness in extinguishing fires is undeniable, it’s important to recognize that many firefighting foams contain toxic substances. These substances can have far-reaching implications for human health and the environment.

In this article, we delve into the various toxic substances found in firefighting foam and explore the potential risks they pose.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a category of synthetically developed compounds, hold a vital position within the domain of firefighting foam. Their exceptional ability to form a sturdy and impenetrable barrier between the foam and the fuel source plays a pivotal role, as reported by the TorHoerman Law.

This distinctive attribute significantly bolsters the foam’s effectiveness in promptly confining and extinguishing fires, effectively halting the propagation of flames. However, The incorporation of PFAS into firefighting foam has garnered substantial attention and sparked the AFFF foam cancer controversy.

Health Risks

Healthline’s report highlights the connection between PFAS compounds and a variety of health concerns. These concerns encompass elevated cholesterol levels, liver dysfunction, fertility challenges, and increased susceptibility to cancer. Termed “forever chemicals,” these substances resist environmental degradation, resulting in their accumulation across plant, animal, and human ecosystems.

Environmental Impact

The contamination of PFAS can seep into the soil and groundwater, leading to the pollution of drinking water sources and aquatic ecosystems. The extensive utilization of firefighting foam has resulted in PFAS contamination spreading to areas surrounding firefighting training facilities, airports, and industrial sites.

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In recent times, a study conducted across six specific states has unveiled disconcerting revelations regarding drinking water. Shockingly, around 18% of the total 5,300 water systems within these states were identified as containing PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate.

Alarmingly, these detected levels exceeded the interim revised health advisory thresholds established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the year 2022.

Fluorotelomer Alcohols

Fluorotelomer alcohols, similar to PFAS, constitute a distinct category of chemicals frequently present in firefighting foam. Their purpose parallels that of PFAS, as they aim to augment the foam’s efficacy. This is achieved by establishing a protective barrier between the foam and the fuel, thereby aiding fire suppression efforts.

Health Risks

Fluorotelomer alcohols have the potential to degrade into PFAS compounds, thereby compounding the health hazards linked with PFAS exposure.

Recent research by the FDA underscores this concern. A novel study highlights the accumulation of Fluorotelomer alcohols within the adipose tissue, liver, and plasma of laboratory rats. This accumulation persists for over a year, equivalent to half of the rats’ lifespan.

Another study, conducted separately, scrutinized the safety of these compounds based on industry assertions.

However, this analysis exposed a critical oversight: the claims disregarded publicly available data that indicated a heightened level of toxicity associated with their products.

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) constitute a collection of synthetically created organobromine compounds. These compounds have been used as flame retardants in polyurethane foams. Additionally, they have been integrated into polymer resins and plastics, playing a crucial role as integral components within electrical appliances.

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Health Risks

The presence of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in food carries health implications for individuals of all age brackets. Experts drew conclusions about potential health concerns related to PBDEs based on an assessment of animal experiments outlined in the preliminary viewpoint. These compounds were found to have adverse effects on both the reproductive and nervous systems.

Ammonium Perfluorooctanoate (APFO)

Ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO), at times, finds its application within firefighting foam formulations with the purpose of diminishing the surface tension of water. This characteristic serves to enhance the foam’s ability to disperse evenly, enabling more effective coverage and improved fire suppression capabilities.

Health Risks

Exposure to ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO) has been associated with notable physiological effects, including an enlargement of the liver and the development of corneal opacity.

Further research is necessary to comprehensively understand the extent of these health implications and to develop effective mitigation strategies.


While firefighting foam plays a crucial role in mitigating flammable liquid fires, it’s important to acknowledge the potential hazards associated with the toxic substances it contains.

Firefighting organizations, researchers, and policymakers increasingly recognize the urgency of addressing these concerns. Efforts are being made to develop and adopt environmentally-friendly foam formulations that minimize the use of toxic substances.

As awareness expands and novel innovations come to light, the firefighting community is progressively advancing toward a safer and more sustainable future. This evolution aims to achieve fire suppression effectiveness while upholding the paramount importance of human health and the preservation of the planet’s well-being.

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