ADEQ To Assist Select Fire Departments in Eliminating Firefighting Foam Linked to Cancer

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) recently announced the launch of a “take-back and replace” pilot program that will assist select fire departments statewide by removing, disposing and replacing firefighting foam that contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at no cost.

Commonly known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are persistent in the environment and have been linked to adverse health effects from exposure. PFAS are a group of thousands of man-made compounds with fire-retardant properties that have been manufactured and used by a variety of industries since 1940. Certain firefighting foams can be a major source of harmful PFAS release to the environment.

“Protecting Arizonans and Arizona’s precious water resources from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) impacts is critical,” said ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera, P.E. “In addition to posing risks to firefighters’ health, uncontrolled release of firefighting foam containing PFAS has the potential to create adverse impacts to our communities if it reaches drinking water, groundwater or surface water. ADEQ’s take-back and replace pilot program is an important action to protect public health and the environment in Arizona and part of our proactive PFAS mitigation strategy.”

Arizona law prohibits discharge or use of firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS for training or testing purposes unless required by law or done in a facility with proper containment, treatment and disposal measures.

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) that contains PFAS is primarily used to extinguish petroleum-based fires and is expensive to dispose of safely. Many fire departments that have PFAS-containing foam in their inventories due to its long shelf life do not have the resources to cover safe disposal costs and purchase an alternative foam.

With an established fiscal year 2023 budget of $395,500, ADEQ initiated the one-year take-back and replace pilot program earlier this year. ADEQ’s pilot program includes:

  • Conducting a statewide survey of fire departments to identify whether they have AFFF containing PFAS in their inventory and whether their department is subject to federal regulations (Military Specification or Federal Aviation Administration).
  • Using the survey results to determine fire departments’ eligibility and then identifying fire departments to invite to participate in the take-back and replace pilot program.
  • Confirming pilot program details with eligible fire departments.
  • Coordinating with participating fire departments to collect, transport and safely dispose of AFFF containing PFAS at an approved facility.
  • Purchasing and providing PFAS-free replacement foam to participating fire departments free of charge to ensure firefighters can continue protecting their communities and the environment.

Based on results from ADEQ’s statewide survey (initial results), fire departments self-reported 5,000 gallons of AFFF containing PFAS in their current inventory. ADEQ’s review of the survey results determined that nearly 3,000 of the 5,000 gallons total, were located in the inventories of 24 municipal fire departments that are eligible to participate in the take-back and replace pilot program.

These 24 municipal fire departments are located in 14 counties. ADEQ will reach out to these fire departments in December 2022 to confirm program participation details and plans to coordinate, conduct and complete the take-back and replace pilot program by the end of June 2023.

ADEQ understands that the priority of firefighters is to protect life and property and urges all emergency responders to take extreme care to minimize release of AFFF containing PFAS into the environment.