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U.S. Army awards contracts to remove, replace PFAS firefighting foams on bases

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PFAS include some 5,000 substances that can be used in products like food packaging, firefighting foam, cosmetics, oil and water repellent chemicals. Photo credit: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS, stock.adobe.com

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Alabama has awarded $800 million in contracts to remove firefighting foams that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and replace the equipment with environmentally-safe alternatives on bases across the country. 

As a result of growing health and environmental concerns surrounding PFAS, military use of long-chain chemical firefighting foams, known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam, will be banned on U.S. bases by October 2024. A ban on purchasing PFAS-based foams began Oct. 1, 2023. 

In June, the Department of Defense announced that some 714 military and government facilities required assessments for PFAS contamination, although more than half have already been completed.

Nine contracts have been issued to firms for the removal, disposal, and replacement of existing firefighting foams with fluorine-free foams. The older foams were often used as a fire suppressant for fuel fires, but could contaminate soil and groundwater with the “forever chemicals”. 

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After 3M Inc.’s announcement of phasing out manufacturing of perfluorooctane sulfonate products, also known as PFOS, in 2000, the primary supply of the firefighting foam became fluorotelomer-based. Due to the long shelf-life, however, many fire services on military bases still have older, long-chain foams in their inventories.

The new military remediation contracts take place over five years on military installations across the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, the U.S. territories, U.S. territorial waters, and other outlying areas.

North of the border, a smaller-scale contract was issued in 2021 to remediate PFAS contamination at an airport in North Bay, Ontaio, where the military trained personnel to use firefighting foams. 

Canada banned certain PFAS in firefighting foams under the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012. PFOS was added to the regulation in 2016; however, a series of exemptions remain in effect. Some exemptions include firefighting foam that contains residual levels of PFOS at a maximum concentration of 10 ppm, as well as the import, use, and sale of firefighting foams that contain perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. 

In late 2020, the Canadian government completed an extensive assessment on the use of non-fluorinated firefighting foams. 

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