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Ohio’s Statewide Initiative to Remove Cancer-Linked Firefighting Foam

Fire Departments Participate in Crucial AFFF Foam Collection Program

In a significant move to protect public health and the environment, Ohio fire departments are surrendering potentially dangerous firefighting foam linked to cancer and other health risks. The state has launched a collection program for aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals.” This initiative marks a crucial step in addressing the ongoing concerns surrounding firefighting foam cancer risks and demonstrates Ohio’s commitment to safeguarding its firefighters and communities.

5 Key Points

  • Ohio is collecting AFFF foam containing PFAS from fire departments statewide.
  • The foam is linked to potential health risks, including cancer and water contamination.
  • 380 of Ohio’s 1,178 fire departments have committed to returning 75,000 gallons of foam.
  • Collected foam will be safely destroyed using patented technology in Hilliard, Ohio.
  • Fire departments are transitioning to safer, PFAS-free foam alternatives.

The Dangers of AFFF Foam and PFAS

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been a staple in firefighting for decades, particularly effective in combating fuel fires. Its unique ability to create a film on the surface of flammable liquids has made it invaluable in controlling and extinguishing challenging fires. However, the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in this foam has raised significant health and environmental concerns. PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment, have been linked to various health issues, including an increased risk of certain cancers. The potential link between firefighting foam and cancer has become a major concern for firefighters and communities alike. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to PFAS can lead to increased risks of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and other severe health conditions. Additionally, these chemicals can accumulate in the human body over time, potentially causing long-term health effects even after exposure has ceased. Anne Vogel, director of Ohio EPA, emphasized the importance of this collection effort: “We know that there are potential health implications of too much PFAS in the drinking water. So, anything we can do to keep it from breaching drinking water is what we’ll do with the Ohio EPA” (Sess, 2024). This statement underscores the dual threat posed by AFFF foam – not only to firefighters who come into direct contact with it but also to communities whose water sources may become contaminated.  

Ohio’s Proactive Approach to AFFF Foam Removal

In March 2024, Ohio initiated a comprehensive program to collect and safely dispose of AFFF foam containing PFAS. This proactive approach places Ohio at the forefront of addressing the firefighting foam cancer risk, setting an example for other states to follow. The state has set up collection sites across the region, with the Columbiana County Fairgrounds as the third location in this ongoing effort. The collection process has been carefully designed to ensure the safe handling and transportation of the foam. Fire departments are instructed to bring their AFFF foam in sealed containers to designated collection points, where trained personnel oversee the transfer and storage of the material. This meticulous approach minimizes the risk of spills or leaks during collection, further protecting the environment and public health. Ohio State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon highlighted the program’s dual benefits: “It’s helping the environment, number one. We know that this foam can’t be used again. And number two, it’s helping the health and safety of firefighters” (Sess, 2024). This statement underscores the importance of addressing the firefighting foam cancer risk while also protecting the environment.  

Fire Departments’ Response and Transition

Ohio’s fire departments’ response has been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating a solid commitment to public safety and environmental stewardship. As of June 2024, 380 out of the state’s 1,178 departments have committed to returning approximately 75,000 gallons of AFFF foam. This significant participation demonstrates the fire service’s dedication to protecting their personnel and communities from potential firefighting foam cancer risks. East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick expressed relief at being able to dispose of the foam safely: “I’m happy to get rid of it. It’s been stuck in the corner at the firehouse. We’re trying to avoid it now that we’re able to drop it off and get rid of it. It’s a big relief” (Sess, 2024). This sentiment is echoed by many fire departments across the state, which have long been aware of the potential dangers but lacked a safe and efficient means of disposal. The transition away from AFFF foam is not without its challenges. Fire departments must now invest in new, safer foam alternatives and potentially modify their equipment and procedures. However, the long-term benefits to firefighter health and environmental protection far outweigh these short-term costs and inconveniences.  

Safe Disposal and Future Alternatives

  One of the critical aspects of this initiative is the safe disposal of the collected foam. Unlike previous methods that may have posed additional environmental risks, Ohio has partnered with a company in Hilliard that uses patented technology to destroy the foam safely and cleanly. This innovative process ensures that no harmful byproducts or contamination result from the disposal. The destruction process involves breaking down the PFAS molecules into their constituent parts, effectively neutralizing their harmful properties. This approach significantly improves over traditional disposal methods such as incineration or landfilling, which can potentially release PFAS into the air or groundwater. As fire departments phase out AFFF foam, they transition to safer alternatives. Fire Marshal Reardon noted, “There are substitutes that do not have the harmful substances in the foam that the PFAS-based foam did” (Sess, 2024). These new foams are designed to provide similar firefighting capabilities without the associated health and environmental risks. The development of these alternative foams represents a significant advancement in firefighting technology. Manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development to create products that meet stringent performance standards while prioritizing safety. Some of these new foams use silicon-based compounds or other biodegradable materials that break down more readily in the environment. While this transition comes with associated costs, fire departments recognize it as a necessary step to ensure their personnel’s and the public’s safety. Chief Drabick acknowledged this reality, stating, “And that’s a cost, but it’s a cost that we have to incur in order to provide the protection that we need” (Sess, 2024). Ohio’s initiative to collect and safely dispose of AFFF foam containing PFAS represents a significant step forward in addressing the potential health risks associated with these chemicals, including the concern of firefighting foam cancer. By proactively removing these substances from fire department inventories and transitioning to safer alternatives, Ohio is setting an example for other states to protect firefighters and communities from the long-term effects of PFAS exposure. The success of this program highlights the importance of collaboration between state agencies, fire departments, and environmental experts in tackling complex public health and safety issues. As awareness of the dangers posed by PFAS continues to grow, similar initiatives will likely be implemented across the country, marking a new era in firefighting safety and environmental protection.  



Q. Do you qualify for a Firefighting Foam lawsuit?

A. To see if you qualify, click here.  

Q. What is AFFF foam, and why is it being collected?

A. AFFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam) is a firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals. It is being collected due to potential health risks, including cancer and environmental concerns.  

Q. How many Ohio fire departments are participating in the foam collection program?

A. As of June 2024, 380 out of Ohio’s 1,178 fire departments have committed to returning AFFF foam.  

Q. What are the health risks associated with PFAS in firefighting foam?

A. PFAS in firefighting foam has been linked to various health issues, including an increased risk of certain cancers and potential contamination of drinking water.  

Q. How is the collected foam being disposed of?

A. The foam is being taken to Hilliard, Ohio, where a company uses patented technology to destroy it safely without producing harmful byproducts or contamination.  

Q. What are fire departments using as an alternative to AFFF foam?

A. Fire departments are transitioning to foam substitutes that do not contain PFAS, offering similar firefighting capabilities without the associated health and environmental risks.   Citations: Sess, D. (2024, June 14). Fire departments unload unsafe foam at collection site. MSN.

Source: – Firefighting Foam Lawsuit

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