Air Force pushed to find alternative to ‘forever chemicals’ for firefighting

Can air bases come up with a less toxic foam and work with local communities affected by contamination?


A huge amount of fire retardant foam was unintentionally released in an aircraft hangar at Travis Air Force Base, California. Such foams contain PFAS, and are now banned from training exercises.

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Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFAS — dubbed “forever chemicals” for their toxic longevity — are found in countless items, including non-stick cookware, firefighting foam and even popcorn bags. They’re also linked to cancer. But because they’re not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s up to states to track and monitor them — and Western states are lagging. Water contamination has been confirmed in at least 10 Western states, yet only Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington regulate the chemicals (“See where PFAS pollution has been confirmed in the American West,” 5/20/19).

According to E&E Daily, a Senate panel urged the U.S. Air Force to find an alternative to its firefighting foam, which contains PFAS. Air bases have also been asked to work with nearby communities affected by contamination, such as Clovis, New Mexico, whose drinking water supply has been tainted by Cannon Air Force Base. According to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, the base is cleaning up PFAS pollution and no longer uses the toxic foam during training exercises. However, it has yet to find a suitable alternative. 

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