Insights: Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) Transition Planning
On May 8, 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the Aircraft Firefighting Foam Transition Plan guidance document (Report). The Report is downloadable at Federal Aviation Administration Aircraft Firefighting Foam Transition Plan, 8 May 2023 (faa.gov). The purpose of the report was to satisfy a requirement imposed by Congress upon the FAA to ensure an orderly transition from current aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to a replacement firefighting foam. AFFF historically contained per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment. As such, the FAA and the Department of Defense (DoD) have partnered to develop and test fluorine-free foam (F3), an effort that has been ongoing since 2018.
In January 2023, the DoD published a F3 military specification to comply with the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. As of the date of the Report and this article, there are no approved F3 foams on the DoD Qualified Product List (QPD Search (dla.mil)). Congress has required that products are qualified and listed no later than October 1, 2023. At that time, the FAA plans to provide an amended version of AC 150/5210-6, Aircraft Fire Extinguishing Agents, and inform airports of applicable changes via CertAlerts.
Relative to environmental considerations for the F3 transition, and best practices for decontamination of existing equipment, the FAA plans to provide information as it becomes available.
Currently, there is no mandate to switch from PASF free AFFF to F3. However, switching to F3 is alleged to provide a greater level of protection of human health, and continued use of PFAS AFFF when a fluorine-free alternative is available could create liability. The FAA suggests that airports develop a transition plan, which should consider state and federal regulatory requirements related to handling, disposal, and cleaning of equipment contaminated with PFAS.
C&S Companies is currently working with airports to develop transition plans. Major considerations include:
- Coordination and Communication. In some instances, the United States Air Force (USAF) is co-located at an airport. Since the federal government is taking the lead on this effort, the USAF may have a tactical advantage and could be a useful relationship to leverage. The transition will require trucks to be taken out of service for cleaning. Airports must ensure continued capabilities for firefighting.
- Management of Unused PFAS AFFF. Some state regulatory agencies have a take-back program for unused material. In 2022, NYS required foam manufacturers to recall, collect, and safely dispose of PFAS foam, as well as reimburse retailers and other purchasers. However, that generally has not been honored by the manufacturers, therefore NYSDEC is issuing an updated imperative to advance this effort. Until this is resolved, onsite storage in an environmentally safe area may be prudent.
- Fire Truck Cleaning. Because of its chemical composition, PFAS-containing AFFF forms a resilient barrier on the inside of containers and piping. Even after multiple hot water cleanings, PFAS will continue to be present. How clean a container should or must be prior to be placed back into service is not yet known. Battelle is offering a promising technology called supercritical water oxidation (trade name PFAS Annihilator) to destroy residual PFAS. Costs are not yet known. We have heard of cleaning costs of around $20,000 per truck. While that is very expensive, it is significantly less than replacing a fire truck. Due to their lower cost, the current school of thought on AFFF trailers is to clean, dispose, and replace.
- Disposal of Cleaning Liquids. Traditional clean, rinse, and repeat cleaning methods will yield a considerable volume of liquids requiring disposal. There are basically two schools of thought on liquids disposal…incineration or stabilization/landfilling. Doctorate level experts in the field have concerns over the destruction of short-chain PFAS via incineration. Therefore, stabilization/landfilling may provide a higher level of liability protection. Costs are in the range of $6 to $10 per gallon, making a 55-gallon drum $330 to $550 each. However, storing the waste material onsite in an environmental sound location may be prudent if the available disposal methods do not offer the required level of liability protection.
- State Regulatory Requirements. Some states regulate the storage and handling of hazardous materials and have unique hazardous wastes. When the ingredients of F3 are known, your state’s rules should be consulted.
- Cost. The cost of the new F3 product, tank cleaning, wash water disposal, and un-used AFFF management are expected to be high. For example, we are working with an airport with four fire trucks totaling 1,250 gallons, plus 1,145 gallons in storage. The cost for the transition is expected to be $375,000. In this instance, if the manufacturer will buy-back the unused product, the cost will be $225,000. Airport organization interest groups are pushing Congress to provide funding for the transition, but it is unclear how all of the timelines will overlap. C&S is closely following these efforts.
- Legal Approach. This article takes on AFFF transition from a technical environmental perspective. Consider reaching out to internal or outside counsel to provide advice on moving forward. In addition, there are many law firms helping airports with cost recovery from a legal approach as well as from an insurance approach.
If you need assistance with a transition plan or have insight to offer, please feel free to contact us.