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New Fire Suppressants: Alternatives to AFFF Foam

New Fire Suppressants: Alternatives to AFFF Foam

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Fire suppression has long relied on Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) to combat fires involving flammable liquids. However, concerns about the environmental and health impacts of AFFF foam have sparked a growing interest in exploring alternative firefighting agents.

According to Consumer Notice, AFFF contains water and other chemical components, which increase the lifespan of the foam. It comes in 3% and 6% formulas, depending on the quantity of water. The per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances make the mix foamy so that a film can be created over the fire.

In this article, we delve into the emerging alternatives to AFFF foam, examining their effectiveness and potential to revolutionize fire suppression strategies.

Understanding the Limitations of AFFF Foam

AFFF foam has been a staple in fire suppression due to its ability to extinguish fires involving gasoline, jet fuel, and oil. Its mechanism involves forming a thin film on the surface of the fuel, smothering the fire, and preventing reignition. However, using AFFF foam has raised significant environmental and health concerns, primarily due to PFAS chemicals.

PFAS compounds are highly persistent in the environment and linked to various health issues. These chemicals do not break down easily and can accumulate in soil, water bodies, and living organisms. Thus, they pose long-term risks to ecosystems and human health.

As stated in an article by The Guardian, PFAS are known to contaminate drinking water for more than 200 million Americans. It has also been detected in soil at a depth of 6 inches, ranging from 0.1 part per billion (ppb) to 15 ppb.

Many individuals, especially firefighters, have faced significant health risks due to AFFF exposure. According to TorHoerman Law, they have also filed lawsuits against the manufacturers. Through these AFFF foam lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege that manufacturers knew about the potential health damages but didn’t warn them.

Several types of cancers, including kidney, testicular, pancreatic, bladder, etc., have been associated with AFFF use. If you have faced health damages after exposure, you can also file an AFFF foam lawsuit. If you prove that your health condition has resulted from AFFF exposure, you will be awarded a settlement amount for your sufferings.

Emerging Alternatives to AFFF Foam

Recognizing the drawbacks of AFFF foam, researchers and industry professionals have been actively exploring alternative firefighting agents. They seek effective fire suppression agents while minimizing environmental and health risks. Several promising alternatives have emerged, each with its unique characteristics and mechanisms of action.

Fluorine-Free Foams (F3)

Fluorine-free foams (F3) significantly depart from traditional AFFF foam formulations. Unlike AFFF foam containing PFAS chemicals, F3 foams are formulated using fluorine-free surfactants and additives. These foams provide rapid fire suppression without introducing persistent chemicals into the environment.

An article from the Environmental Working Group shows that such foams have been available in the market for almost 20 years. The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute has identified nearly 100 fluorine-free foams.

As stated by the Federal Aviation Administration, these fluorine-free foams have also been encouraged by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD published a military specification for fluorine-free foam manufacturing in January 2023. Manufacturers can create these alternative foams and send them for approval. If DoD approves that the foams meet the published specifications, they will be added to the qualified products list.

F3 foams have effectively extinguished Class B fires, including hydrocarbons and polar solvents. They may not match the extinguishing performance of AFFF foam under certain conditions. However, ongoing research and development efforts aim to enhance the efficacy of F3 formulations.

One of the key advantages of F3 foams is their reduced environmental impact. By eliminating PFAS chemicals from the formulation, F3 foams mitigate the risk of bioaccumulation and long-term environmental contamination. Additionally, F3 foams are non-toxic and safer for firefighters and first responders who handle these agents during fire suppression operations.

High-Expansion Foam Systems

High-expansion foam systems offer an alternative approach to fire suppression, particularly in large-scale incidents such as industrial fires or warehouse conflagrations. These systems generate copious volumes of foam by mixing air with a foaming agent. Through this, they produce a dense blanket that suffocates the fire and prevents its spread.

Unlike traditional AFFF foam concentrates, high-expansion foam formulations often contain biodegradable surfactants and environmentally friendly additives. While they may not be suitable for all fire scenarios, high-expansion foam systems excel when rapid fire containment and smoke suppression are priorities.

Dry Chemical Agents

Dry chemical agents, such as potassium bicarbonate and monoammonium phosphate, offer an effective alternative to foam-based firefighting agents. This is particularly true for Class A and B fires. These agents work by interrupting the chemical reaction of the fire and depriving it of the fuel source.

A study from NCBI concludes that these chemicals have a grain size of around 200 nm. At aerosol release temperatures of more than 1000°C, they can become active and react immediately with radicals supporting the flame combustion reaction. These also extinguish C and F types and fires arising from electrical devices.

Dry chemical agents are versatile and can be deployed in various firefighting apparatus, including portable extinguishers, fixed systems, and mobile units. Unlike foam-based agents, dry chemical agents do not leave a residue that requires extensive cleanup. This makes them suitable for sensitive environments such as electronics manufacturing facilities or server rooms.

Considerations for Adoption and Implementation

The emergence of alternative firefighting agents represents a positive step towards reducing the environmental impact of fire suppression activities. However, several considerations must be considered before widespread adoption and implementation.

  • Efficacy and performance: Alternative firefighting agents must demonstrate comparable or superior efficacy to traditional AFFF foam under various fire scenarios and environmental conditions.
  • Training and education: Firefighters and first responders must receive comprehensive training and education on using, handling, and storing alternative firefighting agents. This will help ensure effective and safe deployment during emergencies.
  • Regulatory compliance: Regulatory agencies are crucial in establishing guidelines and standards for alternative firefighting agents, including safety, environmental impact, and disposal requirements.
  • Cost and accessibility: The cost-effectiveness and availability of alternative firefighting agents may influence their adoption by fire departments, municipalities, and industrial facilities. Investments in research and development are needed to improve the affordability and accessibility of these agents.

To conclude, the shift towards emerging alternatives to AFFF foam represents a paradigm shift in fire suppression strategies. Concerns about environmental sustainability and public health drive these strategies. Challenges remain in these new alternatives’ efficacy, safety, and regulatory compliance. However, ongoing research and innovation efforts hold promise for developing next-generation firefighting agents that prioritize effectiveness, safety, and environmental responsibility.

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