Updated DOD standards: Critical first step toward firefighting foam made without ‘forever chemicals’

WASHINGTON – Today the Department of Defense quietly released new requirements for the firefighting foam it uses to put out jet fuel fires. It marks a crucial step toward ending the use of foams containing the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, which have long contaminated drinking water.

For more than 50 years, the DOD has required the use of a firefighting foam made with PFAS, known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF. Because of this widespread use, more than 700 military sites in 50 states are known or suspected to be contaminated with PFAS. 

PFAS exposure is associated with some kinds of cancer, reproductive and developmental harms, and immune harms

The new firefighting foam standards, dated January 6, 2023, are known as a military specification. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Congress required the DOD to update the standard by January 31, 2023. That same law also required the department to stop buying PFAS-based foams by October 1, 2023, and stop using them entirely by October 1, 2024. 

The update requires firefighting foam suppliers to certify that there are no intentionally added PFAS in their products and requires foam testing to ensure no PFAS are detected. To meet the new specification, foams must “pose no serious or high risk to the health of personnel or the environment.” 

“The DOD invented AFFF and for decades was one of the world’s most prolific PFAS polluters,” said Melanie Benesh, vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “The new standard marks critical progress toward finally eliminating this source of PFAS contamination from military installations.” 

“To protect military firefighters, service members and nearby communities, the DOD should work quickly to identify safe firefighting foams that comply with the new standards and complete its transition ahead of the 2024 deadline,” said Benesh.

The new specification will also affect airports significantly. Even though dozens of airports internationally already use PFAS-free foam, the Federal Aviation Administration requires U.S. civilian airports to meet the military’s standards. Congress required the FAA to allow airports to switch to PFAS-free foams by 2021. But that agency kept its standards pegged to the military standards, effectively preventing airports from switching. The DOD’s updated specification eliminates that barrier. 

“Even though airports have been a significant source of PFAS contamination in communities across the country, the FAA has made it impossible for airports to switch to safer firefighting foams,” Benesh said.

“But the new standard for PFAS-free foams eliminates any excuse for continuing to require AFFF at airports. The FAA must get out of the way of airports eager to use safer alternatives and update its requirements as soon as possible too,” said Benesh.

Tell Congress: Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

We need your help to protect our water from toxic PFAS chemicals.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action

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