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Persistent Pollutants

US Department of Defense updates firefighting foam requirements

by Britt E. Erickson
January 20, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 3


Firefighters spraying foam to extinguish a fire.
Credit: Shutterstock
Firefighting foam used on US military bases has contaminated water and land with PFAS nationwide.

The US Department of Defense has new specifications for firefighting foam used to put out jet fuel and other class B hydrocarbon liquid fuel fires. Under the requirements, concentrated firefighting agents cannot contain more than 1 ppb per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and the concentrate must be diluted with freshwater to create foam at the time of use. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 required the DOD to update the standards by Jan. 31, 2023. The department must stop purchasing PFAS-​containing foams by Oct. 1 and use existing stocks by Oct. 1, 2024. Hundreds of military bases are contaminated with PFAS from aqueous film–forming foam used for decades to extinguish jet fuel fires. “The new standard marks critical progress toward finally eliminating this source of PFAS contamination from military installations,” Melanie Benesh, vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, says in a statement. “The DOD should work quickly to identify safe firefighting foams that comply with the new standards and complete its transition ahead of the 2024 deadline.”


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