FAA must end use of polluting PFAS firefighting foam
Here’s how a federal agency “meets” a deadline without actually doing what Congress wanted it to do before that deadline.
For many years, civilian airports have been forced by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules to store and use PFAS-based fire-fighting foam. In response to growing public concern over toxic firefighting foams harming firefighters and polluting drinking water near county airports, Congress took action in 2018. Section 332 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (PL: 115-254) gave the FAA three years to adjust its requirements for airports to allow the use of fire-fighting foams that do not contain hazardous PFAS. Monday, October 4, 2021 was the deadline set by the FAA to allow civilian airports to use fire-fighting foams without toxic PFAS chemicals.
The FAA has not done enough over the past three years to help airports adopt safer foams that are already in use around the world. At the eleventh hour, the FAA released a classic DC double speech “CertAlert” at airports by announcing that the standard on fire-fighting foams that applies to airports no longer requires the use of fluorochemicals (ie PFAS). However, it did not change the requirement for airports to meet the military standard, which is based on the performance of fluorinated foams. The FAA says airports can apply for approval of foams without PFAS, but offers no clear path for them to get that approval.
In essence, PFAS firefighting foams are still required at U.S. airports, as they are the only foams that can meet the military performance specifications required by the FAA.
This was not the intention of Congress when it ordered the FAA to allow the use of PFAS-free foams by October 4, 2021.
PFAS firefighting foams are dangerous
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are extremely persistent chemicals linked to cancer, liver toxicity and other health effects. Firefighters have been using and training PFAS based foam for decades at commercial and military airports. PFAS in the foam has contaminated the drinking water of millions of people across the country, while putting firefighters at increased risk of exposure to toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and chronic disease.
Companies like 3M and DuPont had known for years that PFAS were harmful, but they continued to manufacture the chemicals and put them in a wide range of products. 3M, which recently settled a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota for $ 850 million, phased out production of PFAS for fire-fighting foam in late 2002, but other companies continued to do so.
Congress urged FAA to stop requiring PFAS foams
Recognizing the continued threat of PFAS-based firefighting foams to the community water supply, the vulnerability of first responders, the potential liability of airports and the increasing availability of alternatives without PFAS, Congress called on the FAA to authorize commercial airports to use PFAS. Free fire-fighting foams in its Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill of 2018.
When we spoke to Hill’s offices about the 2018 FAA Bill, staff and elected officials were increasingly hearing from communities and water utilities alarmed by the contamination of their drinking water and the high price they paid. saw for filtration and cleaning.
Fire-fighting foams without PFAS are already used successfully worldwide, but outdated federal guidelines have maintained foams containing PFAS used for training and firefighting at US commercial and military airports.
The good news and the bad news
Congress has already ordered the military to phase out its use of these foams by 2024. Additionally, states have taken action and the market for safer alternatives is growing, including for airports.
The good news is that:
- Nine states, including Washington, Illinois, New York, and California, have enacted laws prohibiting the sale or use of PFAS foams.
- A new certification that assesses PFAS and other hazardous substances in fire extinguisher foam launched with around ten foams already certified, including an aviation foam.
- Airports around the world are successfully using foams without PFAS, including London Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and City, Manchester, Paris Charles De Gaulle, Paris Orly, Lyon, Helsinki, Lisbon, Dubai, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Dortmund, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
- Airport demand for PFAS-free foams and the market keep growing.
The bad news is that FAA’s failure to meet deadlines contributes to ongoing contamination and exposures:
FAA Must Take Responsibility For Ending Contamination Of Drinking Water
States are taking action to end the use of these dangerous chemicals, but they need the partnership of federal agencies like the FAA. It is high time for the FAA to step up and do the job Congress has asked it to do.
Instead of continued delay and re-contamination, the FAA should act now to follow the direction given by Congress and allow civilian airports to use fluorine-free foam, using an international standard used at airports. of the whole world.