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For decades, Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has been a firefighter's lifeline, creating fire suppression barriers and protecting lives. However, the legacy of its use comes with a hidden cost: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. These harmful chemicals persist in the environment, leaching into soil and water supplies. The fight against AFFF contamination demands innovative solutions, and that's where advanced technologies come in.

This article explores the cutting-edge tools and techniques that are revolutionizing the cleanup process.

Contamination and the Fight for Cleanup

Firefighters, military personnel, and others exposed to AFFF firefighting foam face significant health risks due to its content of PFAS. These chemicals, known for their persistence in the environment, have been linked to serious health issues, including cancer and birth defects.

Despite being effective in combating fires caused by flammable liquids, the foam's use has led to widespread contamination of soil and groundwater.

TorHoerman Law notes that government agencies are now taking steps to phase out PFAS-containing foams and mitigate environmental and health risks. However, many individuals exposed to the foam in their professions or communities are already experiencing health complications.

They were assured of the foam's safety but are now burdened with medical bills and suffering from ailments associated with PFAS exposure.

As the dangers of AFFF become more widely known, legal action is being taken. The firefighting foam lawsuit landscape is growing. Many individuals exposed to the foam at work or through contaminated water sources are filing suit against manufacturers. As per the latest AFFF lawsuit update, the number of active lawsuits has surged to over 9,198, reflecting the growing awareness of this issue.

According to Lawsuit Information Center, one recent case exemplifies the human cost of its exposure. The plaintiff, a firefighter since 2015, alleges severe thyroid disease resulting from repeated exposure during service at various fire departments. This case, along with countless others, underscores the potential health consequences associated with the foam’s use.

Advanced PFAS Treatment Technologies

The fight against the foam’s contamination demands innovative solutions beyond traditional methods like landfilling or incineration. These approaches often come with drawbacks like high costs and environmental concerns. Fortunately, researchers are developing promising technologies that offer more sustainable and effective ways to clean up PFAS-laden water.

According to TechLink, one such advancement is the Plasma Enhanced Thermal Treatment System (PETS) developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This mobile system uses a combination of ion-exchange resin, filtration, and granular activated carbon to remove PFAS from contaminated water.

The PETS system has been successfully field-tested. It demonstrated the ability to decontaminate over 80,000 gallons of water, reducing PFAS levels to 70 parts per trillion or less.

This trailer-mounted system offers several advantages:

  • Mobility: The trailer design allows for easy transport to contaminated sites, facilitating rapid cleanup efforts.
  • Efficiency: PETS effectively removes PFAS from moderate volumes of contaminated water, making it suitable for various applications.
  • Accessibility: The system uses commercially available components, making it a more readily deployable solution.

Another promising approach is the drop-in treatment method developed by the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center. This method uses specialized cartridges filled with either bituminous granular activated carbon or strong base anion exchange resin. These cartridges are submerged in contaminated water, allowing the sorbent materials to capture PFAS molecules.

This method offers distinct benefits:

  • On-site treatment: The drop-in system enables the treatment of contaminated water directly at the source, reducing transportation needs and associated costs.
  • Waste reduction: By removing PFAS from the water, the volume of waste requiring off-site disposal through incineration is significantly reduced.
  • Cost-effectiveness: The drop-in method offers a potentially more economical solution compared to traditional disposal methods.

These innovative treatment techniques represent a significant step forward in tackling AFFF contamination. The mobility, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of these solutions hold promise for a future where contaminated sites can be effectively cleaned up.

Advanced Filtration Technologies for PFAS Removal

While bottled water might seem like a quick solution to avoid contamination, studies reveal its vulnerability to these "forever chemicals". The Conversation notes that here's where advanced filtration technologies step in, offering a more reliable approach for removing PFAS from drinking water.

1. Activated Carbon

This widely used technology works like a sponge, absorbing PFAS molecules from water. Similar to the charcoal filters in your refrigerator, activated carbon filters are often found in pitcher filters like Brita or PUR. However, it's crucial to choose filters certified for PFAS reduction to ensure effectiveness.

2. Ion Exchange Resin

This technology, familiar with home water softeners, utilizes a resin that captures PFAS through an ion exchange process. Similar to activated carbon, it's commonly found in pitcher filters. For whole-house treatment systems, ion exchange resin is a viable option. However, the installation cost can be significant.

3. Reverse Osmosis (RO)

This membrane technology employs a selective barrier that allows only water and certain desirable compounds to pass through, effectively blocking PFAS molecules. Typically installed under the kitchen sink, RO systems are highly effective at removing most PFAS from drinking water. While not suitable for whole-house treatment, RO systems offer a powerful solution for targeted filtration at the point of use.

Bioremediation for PFAS Cleanup

The fight against AFFF contamination demands innovative solutions, and bioremediation offers a promising eco-friendly approach. This method leverages the natural capabilities of microorganisms to break down PFAS compounds in soil and water. Although still in its early stages, this method involves either engineering microbes or enhancing native microbial communities to break down PFAS contaminants.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showcases the potential of bioremediation. Researchers identified a specific type of fungus, known as "white rot fungus," that demonstrates promise in degrading PFAS. However, sustaining the growth of this fungus and optimizing its PFAS breakdown efficiency posed challenges.

To overcome these hurdles, scientists developed the Renewable Artificial Plant for In-Situ Microbial Environmental Remediation (RAPIMER). This innovative framework uses lignocellulose, a readily available and renewable component of dry plant matter, to create a cost-effective and sustainable solution.

Studies reveal that RAPIMER successfully binds the compounds at higher capacities than existing sorbents. Furthermore, researchers observed a significant removal rate of over 98% for certain PFAS types within a two-week timeframe. These findings suggest the potential for biodegradation of these chemicals into less toxic compounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Firefighting foam alternatives to AFFF include fluorine-free foams (F3) and synthetic foam agents that do not contain PFAS. These alternatives provide effective fire suppression. They also minimize environmental and health risks associated with traditional AFFF foams.

Yes, AFFF is being phased out. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act mandates the Department of Defense (DoD) to phase out AFFF by October 1, 2024. However, there is the possibility of two one-year extensions.

Incineration is used to treat PFAS-contaminated soil. This well-developed technology involves high-temperature thermal destruction, typically exceeding 1,100°C. These high temperatures can effectively mineralize PFAS, breaking them down and reducing their environmental impact.


The fight against AFFF contamination necessitates continued research and development to refine existing technologies and explore new frontiers. Collaboration between scientists, engineers, policymakers, and the public is crucial for the effective implementation of these solutions. By embracing innovation and promoting a sense of collective responsibility, we can turn the tide on AFFF contamination and create a cleaner, healthier future.

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