ILTA Monthly Newsletter

California Votes to Phase Out PFAS Firefighting Foam

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California state lawmakers approved a measure on August 30 that directs the phasing out of both the sale and use of firefighting foams containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances.   

Currently there is no effective substitute for these foams for extinguishing petroleum and chemical fires. Nonetheless, the bill signed into law on September 29 by Governor Gavin Newsom requires fire departments to stop using PFAS foams by January 1, 2022, chemical plants and airports by 2024 and oil refineries and terminal facilities by 2028 unless they qualify for a waiver. The bill also calls for offsite storage and transportation of PFAS foam, highlighting the lack of consensus within the scientific community on how to best dispose of the substances.   

PFAS contamination is a growing issue within the United States—at both the state and federal level—as scientists have found that PFAS persist nearly indefinitely in the environment and accumulate in the human body. Prolonged exposure is linked to cancer, thyroid disease and other health concerns. This past year, Congress has held hearings and debated the issue, while the Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulations. In these forums, ILTA and others in the business community consistently urge regulators and legislators to recognize that PFAS are a diverse family of chemical materials used across a wide cross-section of industries. As such, restrictions on PFAS should be based on the characteristics of individual chemicals, not as a single class. There are close to 5,000 PFAS class chemicals. The chemistries among these chemicals vary substantially and have different characteristics, profiles and uses.

During ILTA’s Environment, Health, Safety & Security subcommittee meeting on September 23, Niall Ramsden of the LASTFIRE Project, a group studying non-PFAS firefighting foams, presented on the viability of alternatives to PFAS-based methods. As more fluorine-free foams have come to market, the LASTFIRE project has expanded its research efforts and early signs are promising, he said. Ramsden noted that, while potentially costly and with varying degrees of effectiveness, recent non-PFAS formulations are beginning to show signs of increased efficacy. If the trend continues, he argues, it is a matter of when, not if, PFAS foams are ultimately replaced. 


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