EPA Press Release Addresses Firefighter Foam PFAS Contamination in Drinking Water

In a press release issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week, the agency announced the addition of new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) treatment options and scientific references to its Drinking Water Treatability Database. The database update furthers the EPA’s “PFAS Action Plan,” which was announced last year as part of an effort to help states, local governments and water utilities remove toxic PFAS chemicals from their drinking water. These PFAS chemicals, which can persist in the environment and the human body for years, have become a major source of drinking water contamination and have also been linked to a host of serious health risks, including several different kinds of cancer. Contact an experienced firefighting foam cancer lawyer today if you believe you or someone you love has been adversely affected by exposure to PFAS chemicals in firefighter foam.

Link Between Firefighting Foam and Cancer

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), better known as firefighter foam, has been used for decades at military bases, refineries, commercial airports and civilian fire departments across the country to suppress petroleum-based fires, which cannot be controlled by water alone. The foam forms a blanket that simultaneously cools the fire and coats the fuel source, preventing its contact with oxygen and suppressing the combustion. Firefighter foam is extremely effective in fighting hazardous liquid fires and preventing reignition. However, serious concerns have emerged in recent years about the potential health risks associated with exposure to the chemicals in firefighter foam and the lasting impact the widespread use of the chemicals may have on the environment. Among other potential side effects, firefighting foam exposure has been linked to:

  • Testicular cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Thyroid disease
  • Neuroendocrine tumors

PFAS Chemicals Contaminating U.S. Water Supplies

According to recent reports, municipal water supplies located close to U.S. military bases, airports and training locations where firefighter foam was routinely used have been found to contain perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two cancer-causing chemicals known collectively as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are found in AFFF. PFAS are a large group of man-made compounds that have been used in consumer products and industrial processes since the 1940s. The chemicals are resistant to heat, water, oils, grease and stains, which makes them highly valuable for use in products like firefighting foam. Unfortunately, these properties also contribute to their persistence in the environment.

PFAS chemicals can enter and remain in the environment and the human body through the air, food, soil, water and dust, and research suggests that the chemicals can take thousands of years to degrade. In light of the potential risk to human health and the environment associated with exposure to PFAS, a growing number of product liability lawsuits have been brought against the companies that manufacture the chemicals found in firefighter foam. Plaintiffs involved in the ongoing firefighter foam litigation include former military and civilian firefighters who developed cancer and other problems after prolonged exposure to firefighting foam, as well as the residents of communities whose water supplies have been contaminated with toxic PFAS.

Efforts to Remove PFAS Contaminants from Drinking Water

According to the EPA’s press release, the agency recently added treatment and contaminant information about four new PFAS compounds to its Drinking Water Treatability Database, which provides information about various environmental contaminants and possible treatment processes to remove the contaminants from drinking water. The new compounds include:

  • Difuoro(perfluoromethoxy) acetic acid, also known as Perfluoro-2-methoxyacetic acid
  • Perfluoro-3,5-dioxahexanoic acid
  • Perfluoro-3,5,7-trioxaoctanoic acid
  • Perfluoropropane sulfonate

“The latest addition of four PFAS compounds and 20 new scientific references to the Drinking Water Treatability Database increases our depth of scientific knowledge on this emerging chemical of concern,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “The update serves as an important tool for states, tribes and communities across the country as they can now use these new treatment technologies to better protect public health and manage PFAS in drinking water.”

EPA to Regulate PFAS in Drinking Water

Amid increasing concerns about the adverse effect of PFAS exposure on the environment and human health, the EPA announced in February 2020 that it would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water. Previously, the EPA only went so far as to recommend that water supplies contain no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS, but the recommendation was not mandatory. Unfortunately, it will be another two years before the EPA sets the new limit for PFAS in drinking water and another 18 months after that before the agency actually finalizes the drinking water requirement. In the meantime, former firefighters and others exposed to PFAS in firefighting foam or contaminated drinking water are holding the manufacturers of these toxic chemicals accountable for their injuries.