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Swap complete: AF protects Airmen, environment with new firefighting foam

Tech. Sgt. Brian Virden and Master Sgt. Bryan Riddell,  replace legacy firefighting foam at King Salmon Air Station, Alaska, with Phos-Chek 3 percent, a C6-based Aqueous Film Forming Foam, June 14. The new AFFF protects Airmen, aircraft and infrastructure while reducing the risk of mission-related contamination to drinking water sources. Virden and Riddell are with the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Tech. Sgt. Brian Virden and Master Sgt. Bryan Riddell, replace legacy firefighting foam at King Salmon Air Station, Alaska, with Phos-Chek 3 percent, a C6-based Aqueous Film Forming Foam, June 14. The new AFFF protects Airmen, aircraft and infrastructure while reducing the risk of mission-related contamination to drinking water sources. Virden and Riddell are with the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The transition to an environmentally responsible firefighting foam at King Salmon Air Force Station, Alaska, June 14, 2018, marked the completion of the Air Force’s move to replace legacy foam in fire vehicles and stockpiles across the service.

Replacing the legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam is an important milestone for the Air Force as the service takes aggressive measures to reduce the risk of mission-related contamination to drinking water sources. The new foam is perfluorooctane sulfonate free, only contains trace amounts of perfluorooctanoic acid, and meets the military specifications for firefighting, according to Air Force Fire Chief Jeff Wagner.

“The health and welfare of our Airmen and our on- and off-base communities are top priorities for our Air Force Civil Engineer Center team. Completing the transition to a new AFFF formula reduces the potential risk of drinking water contamination from PFOS and PFOA, as the Air Force effort to identify and respond to past AFFF releases continue,” Wagner said.

Widely used in the past – both commercially and by the Department of Defense – the legacy AFFF contained PFOS and PFOA, two perfluorinated compounds that persist in the environment and may be a potential health concern. On May 19, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency established lifetime health advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.

The Air Force awarded ICL Performance Products a $6.2 million contract for 418,000 gallons of Phos-Chek 3 percent in August 2016. In total, 176 bases transitioned to the new firefighting foam.

“The new AFFF protects our Airmen, our aircraft and our infrastructure. The foam provides essential burn-back resistance, protection against vapor release and rapid extinguishment,” said Kevin Matlock, fire emergency services program manager with AFCEC’s Readiness Directorate.

To further protect the environment, the Air Force limits the use of AFFF to emergency responses, treats all releases as hazardous spills and takes immediate action to ensure containment and removal. The service began retrofitting fire vehicles with an Eco-logic system which enable fire protection testing without AFFF discharges earlier this year. The initiative – which includes retrofitting approximately 850 fire trucks – should be finished by December 2018, Matlock said.

Additionally, the Air Force will replace AFFF contained in aircraft hangar fire protection systems in conjunction with hangar renovations. Unlike mobile fire trucks, AFFF in hangars are contained in a stationary location — a more controlled environment. The projects are expected to be finished by the end of 2018, according to Jack Arthur, fire protection engineer with AFCEC’s Operations Directorate.

For more information about the Air Force response to PFOS/PFOA, visit http://www.afcec.af.mil/WhatWeDo/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/.

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