New York State Targets PFAS in Firefighting Foam

Published on January 14, 2020 by Sandy Liebhard

New York State is preparing to restrict the use of certain firefighting foams because of toxic chemicals that could potentially contaminate groundwater.

Firefighting Foam and PFAS

For decades, chemical firefighting foams (aqueous film-forming foam or AFFF) have been used in civilian and military settings to battle fires driven by petroleum, jet fuel, and other highly flammable liquids.

However, many AFFF firefighting foams contain polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of man-made chemicals that can remain in the environment and the human bloodstream for years. Also found in flame retardants and Teflon, a growing body of evidence suggests PFAS may be linked to a range of health problems, including infertility, liver damage, and certain cancers.

Most PFAS Firefighting Foams to be Phased Out in 2 Years

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to ban the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams in New York State. While ban is scheduled to be phased in over the next two years, the use of PFAS-based foams is prohibited during firefighter training exercises immediately.

The final version of the legislation does allow exceptions for certain types of “ignitable liquids.” However, the exception will be reevaluated every two years and repealed if non-PFAS firefighting foams do become available.

“Today, we celebrate a victory for clean water,” said Rob Hayes, clean water associate for Environmental Advocates of New York. “Phasing out PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam will eliminate a major source of water pollution in New York State, resulting in cleaner and healthier drinking water for all residents.”

Federal PFAS Legislation Disappoints Environmentalists

Last month, President Donald Trump also signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law, which among other things, includes a phase-out of PFAS-containing firefighting foams used by the military.

However, left out of the final bill was a provision that would have required polluters to pay for cleanup costs by designating all substances in the PFAS class “hazardous” under the federal Superfund act.

“The NDAA was not our only chance to end PFAS pollution and hold polluters and the Defense Department accountable, but it was our best chance,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “By failing to reduce ongoing PFAS releases and clean up legacy PFAS pollution, Congress shirked one of its most basic responsibilities – keeping us safe.”

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