Aqueous Film Forming Foams and PFCs

On this page:
What are AFFFs?
What are the concerns associated with AFFF use?
What is being done to determine if AFFF use is causing contamination of drinking water?
More information
Contact

What are AFFFs?

Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs) are used by fire fighters to help extinguish fires that are difficult to fight, particularly fires that involve petroleum or other flammable liquids (also known as Class B fires). Not all firefighting foams are classified as AFFF. Some AFFF formulations contain a class of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

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What are the concerns associated with AFFF use?

When PFC-containing AFFF are repeatedly used in one location over a long period of time, the PFCs can move from the foam into soil and then into groundwater. The amount of PFCs that enter the groundwater depends on the type and amount of AFFF used, where it was used, the type of soil, and other factors. If private or public wells are located nearby, they could potentially be affected by PFCs from the place where AFFF was used.

This is more likely to occur near places where PFC-containing AFFF has been used repeatedly, such as a fire training areas, airports, refineries, and chemical plants. It is less likely to occur from the one-time use of AFFF to fight a fire, unless large volumes of AFFF are used. Although some portable fire extinguishers may use PFC-containing AFFF, one time use of such a small amount would be unlikely to pose a hazard to groundwater.

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What is being done to determine if AFFF use is causing contamination of drinking water?

In 2008, the MPCA conducted a survey of fire departments, airports, refineries, and other potential AFFF users around the state to identify locations where PFC-containing AFFF has been repeatedly used for training or firefighting purposes. MDH and MPCA staff reviewed this information and identified a number of locations where nearby water supply wells were potentially at risk.

In 2009, MDH sampled municipal wells in 17 communities and 16 noncommunity public wells (those that serve businesses, schools, churches, etc.) near the identified AFFF sites. 

Low levels of some PFCs were detected in 7 municipal systems.  No PFCs were detected in the other municipal wells or in any of the noncommunity public wells tested. A summary of the municipal well testing results are shown in the Class B Firefighting Foam - Municipal Well Investigative Sampling Results webpage.

In 2008-2011, MPCA tested the soil, surface water, groundwater, and sediments at and near 13 AFFF sites around the state.  They detected high levels of PFCs at some of the sites, but in most cases the contamination did not affect a large area or pose a risk to humans or the environment (for more information on these investigations: (PFC) Containing Firefighting foams and their Use in Minnesota).  Three sites – Duluth Air National Guard Base, Bemidji Airport, and Western Area Fire Training Academy (WAFTA) - were identified where PFCs had spread far enough that MDH and MPCA decided to test nearby residential wells. The MPCA is continuing to investigate these sites and evaluating what additional actions may be needed.

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More information

2009 Perfluorochemicals & Firefighting Training Sites in Minnesota Slide Presentation (PPTX)

Class B Firefighting Foam - 2009 Municipal Well Investigative Sampling Results

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Contacts

For more information, please contact us.

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Updated Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 04:01PM