How AFFF Firefighting Foam Can Impact Your Health

How AFFF Firefighting Foam Can Impact Your Health

The use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) firefighting foams has become controversial in the scientific community. Firefighters use AFFF foam to extinguish fires, and it has been linked with toxic exposure and adverse health effects. However, one cannot completely avoid using firefighting foam, as wildfires, fuel-based, and electrical fires drive sales. The industry stood at $4.95 billion in 2021 globally.

But there’s still a need to regulate its usage and minimize exposure. In this article, we will look at how AFFF firefighting foam exposure can impact your health.

Understanding AFFF Firefighting Foam

AFFF is a fluorinated synthetic surfactant. It’s used to extinguish fires in aviation and military applications and to fight chemical and oil spills. Firefighters also use AFFF foam to fight fires because it’s much more effective than water at putting out flames quickly and safely.

In addition to its effectiveness as a fire suppressant, AFFF is also very persistent once applied. This means that when you spray it on something, there’s a good chance that it will remain in the environment for long.

Health Risks Associated with AFFF Exposure

If you work with AFFF or live near a firefighting foam application site, exposure can occur through air and skin contact. This can lead to numerous health risks.

Carcinogenic Potential

AFFF is a type of firefighting foam that contains various chemicals, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Studies found that more than 100 PFAS were detected in AFFF firefighting foam.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals resistant to heat, water, and oil. This makes them effective at extinguishing certain fires, especially those involving flammable liquids. The concern about the carcinogenic potential of AFFF stems from PFAS.

The specific carcinogenicity of individual PFAS compounds may vary. However, some studies have suggested links between certain PFAS and various forms of cancer, particularly testicular and kidney cancers.

Due to this, many firefighters and military personnel exposed to AFFF firefighting foams have been diagnosed with cancer. According to TorHoerman Law, they have also faced other health problems. These problems include high cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, a decrease in infant birth weights, etc.

Hence, many firefighters have filed AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits, and you can, too. The firefighter foam lawsuits allege that manufacturers knew about it but didn’t raise awareness about the potential health problems. Therefore, firefighters seek compensation for their problems due to AFFF exposure.

The amount of firefighter foam cash settlements has not been decided yet. However, you can expect to get anywhere between $40,000 to $300,000 as compensation. The amount can vary based on the severity and longevity of your case.

Endocrine Disruption

AFFF firefighting foam contains PFOS and PFOA, forms of PFAS. These compounds have been associated with various health concerns, including endocrine disruption. PFAS are persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the human body over time.

PFAS can potentially interfere with the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body. They may mimic hormones or disrupt their normal functioning, leading to various health problems, including reproductive and developmental issues.

Moreover, PFAS can accumulate in the environment, including soil and water bodies, where they can persist for extended periods. This bioaccumulation can lead to exposure in wildlife and humans through the food chain, potentially causing endocrine disruption in various species.

This interference with the endocrine system can disbalance reproductive hormones. This can lead to numerous reproductive health issues.

In men, AFFF foam has been shown to cause decreased sperm count and motility. These effects have been observed even at low levels of exposure above those typically found in the environment or workplace settings. In pregnant women, they can even impact the unborn child.

For instance, AFFF exposure is linked to decreased infant birth weights and response to vaccines in children. It can also lead to high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

Skin and Eye Irritation

Skin and eye irritation can be caused by AFFF, which has been linked to skin rashes and burns. Skin rashes are red, itchy bumps that may appear on your face or other areas. The symptoms are similar to those of hives or eczema. If you have a skin rash after exposure to AFFF foam, seek medical attention immediately.

Eye irritation can also occur when exposed to this type of firefighting foam. Symptoms include tearing up and watering eyes, pain behind the eyes, blurred vision or double vision, sensitivity to light, etc.

Respiratory Issues

Exposure to PFAS compounds has been associated with various health problems, including potential respiratory issues.

Here are some ways in which AFFF may be linked to respiratory problems:

  • Inhalation exposure: Firefighters and emergency responders who use AFFF may be exposed to airborne particles and vapors generated during firefighting operations. Inhaling these particles and vapors can lead to respiratory irritation and other issues.
  • Environmental contamination: AFFF can contaminate soil and water, leading to potential exposure for communities near military bases, airports, and other facilities where AFFF is used. Contaminated groundwater can also result in vapor intrusion, where PFAS compounds evaporate and enter indoor air, leading to respiratory problems.
  • Bioaccumulation: PFAS compounds are known to bioaccumulate in the body over time. This means that even low-level exposure to PFAS-containing AFFF over an extended period could result in a gradual buildup. This can potentially contribute to long-term health issues, including respiratory problems.

Mitigating Health Risks

To mitigate the health risks associated with AFFF foam, wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensure that the PPE you choose is appropriate for the task and in good condition. 70% of cases of firefighter injuries are due to poorly fitted equipment. This can be fatal; hence, you should care for your equipment and ensure they fit correctly.

You should also be aware of other types of chemicals used during firefighting operations. Some chemicals can react dangerously when combined with AFFF foams. Here are some tips to help mitigate AFFF firefighting foam-related health risks.

  • Wear appropriate respirators or protective clothing when working in environments where AFFF liquids are present or have been used recently.
  • Wash your hands after handling any material containing fluorine compounds such as AFFF.
  • Avoid breathing in fumes from these materials since they could irritate the respiratory system.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or mouth after handling these substances because they are corrosive and may cause burns if ingested by accident.
  • Do not eat or drink near areas where fluorinated surfactants have been applied recently. Fluorine is beneficial in small doses, but anything above 10 mg/ day can harm the skeletal structure and gastrointestinal tract.


We hope this article has helped you better understand the health risks associated with AFFF firefighting foam. We also want to emphasize that measures can be taken to mitigate these risks. For instance, changing regulations and educating the public about the dangers of AFFF exposure can be done.

However, it is essential for everyone to be vigilant about their health by taking care of themselves physically and emotionally.

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About the Author: Katherine

Katherine is a passionate digital nomad with a major in English language and literature, a word connoisseur who loves writing about raging technologies, digital marketing, and career conundrums.

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