Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) is an incredibly effective fire suppressant, even for the most hazardous of fires. It creates a film over fire fuels to cool them and prevent oxygen from making contact with them.
The only issue? AFFF is a synthetic-based foam that contains fluorinated, hydrocarbon-based surfactants — including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
Studies have recently shown that the PFAS in AFFF don’t break down. Instead, they remain in the environment for years, leaking into groundwater and causing toxicity concerns for human and environmental health. Because of these findings, many environmentalists, organizations, and government bodies have called for an end (or at least limitation) to AFFF use.
This has left many facilities to wonder: are there any applications where AFFF is still the right choice? And what should we be using instead? These are both questions that we’ll answer below.
7 AFFF Firefighting Foam Applications
AFFF is most commonly used to combat high-risk fires where a flammable liquid hazard is present. This is known as a Class B fire. The flammable liquid could be alcohol, ether, gasoline, or kerosene.
There are some environments that are at higher risk for Class B fires than others. Some of the most common examples of AFFF firefighting foam applications are:
- Chemical plants
- Fire departments
- Military facilities
- Oil tankers and offshore platforms
- Oil refineries, terminals, and bulk storage facilities
- Aviation testing and manufacturing facilities
- Flammable liquid storage and processing facilities
These facilities need firefighting foams to protect the integrity of their buildings and the safety of their people. For years, the firefighting foam of choice had been AFFF. But now that we’ve seen the risks AFFF poses, it’s not as commonplace.
Can AFFF Still Be Used?
It depends. As more research has been uncovered about the dangers of AFFF, there has been a lot of legislation passed to restrict or ban it. The American government and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been looking for ways to minimize its use, which has included passing the PFAS Action Act of 2021.
But the truth is that every state, industry, and business has its own rules and regulations. Some states have banned it already, some are phasing it out in the next few years, and others are just planning to regulate use. So here’s a good general guideline to follow:
Currently, AFFF may still be used, but only in certain critical situations. These could include things like hydrocarbon fires, alcohol-based incidents, or aviation accidents where the benefits of AFFF outweigh the risk of rampant fire destruction. However, this may not always be the case, so we recommend transitioning to an effective AFFF alternative as soon as possible.
Again, please remember that this isn’t the case for every state or entity therein. Be sure to check with your local government, industry standards, and organization for a better picture of what AFFF regulations look like for you.
3 AFFF Alternatives
Advancements in firefighting technology have led to a few viable alternatives to AFFF. These alternatives are on their way to being just as effective as AFFF, without the dangers of PFAS. Below are three of the most effective AFFF alternatives available today.
1. Fluorine-Free Fire Fighting Foam
Fluorine-free foam is a synthetic-based foam that contains surfactant blends and polysaccharides. It extinguishes fires by creating a blanket of bubbles above fire fuels to cool them. It does not contain PFAS.
Fluorine-free foam is available and ready for use in manual firefighting and fixed system applications. Learn more about how your facility can transition to it here.
2. Dry Chemical Agents
A dry chemical fire suppression system uses a pressurized dry chemical powder to extinguish fires. Some examples of these include:
These dry chemical agents have been manufactured and tested to be incredibly effective against hazardous fires. Each of them has its own unique abilities and benefits, which could vary based on your application. None of them contain PFAS.
3. C6 Firefighting Foam Concentrates
The EPA has discovered that fluorosurfactants with carbon chain lengths longer than six contain PFAS. Hence why C8 firefighting foams have begun to face legislation and regulation. Fluorosurfactants with carbon chains of six or less, however, don’t pose the same risks.
C6 firefighting foams work like AFFF but with a more advanced formula of concentrates that are less harmful to the environment and human health. Because it still contains fluorosurfactants, it may not be the perfect alternative, but it still limits the number of toxins released into the environment.
You can learn more about C8 and C6 firefighting foams and how to transition from one to the other here.
Make the Move Away From AFFF With Vanguard
The time to plan your transition away from AFFF is now. By choosing a safe, effective alternative, you can avoid the hassle of last-minute switches due to government regulation and keep your environment and people free from the dangers of PFAS.
For more information on firefighting foam applications, AFFF, and safe alternatives, contact our team at Vanguard Fire & Security Systems. We can help answer any questions you have, inform you on current legislation, evaluate your existing firefighting foam concentrates, and help you make the switch to a different special hazard solution.