“The Firefighting Foam Coalition was headed by lobbyist Tom Cortina. Cortina was an old hand at defending chemicals from the EPA, but his newest clients were facing especially daunting troubles.
By 2000, some within the Department of Defense had raised the possibility of replacing AFFF with a foam that didn’t contain chemicals that would persist in humans or the environment. The next year, the country’s most prominent air safety organization, the National Fire Protection Association, held a meeting to discuss the need to abandon AFFF. And in 2002, a consulting company called Hughes Associates gave a presentation to a Federal Aviation Conference that warned that the fluorinated surfactants in AFFF were among the most environmentally persistent substances ever — “impervious to biological and most chemical assault.”
As concerns began to swirl around their products, Cortina, joined by DuPont’s Steven Korzeniowski, pushed back. At conferences, in journals, and in meetings with the military and the EPA, they repeated a key talking point: Only one PFAS chemical, PFOS, had been taken off the market; since their products didn’t contain PFOS, their products were safe.
One of the coalition’s biggest tests came at an October 2003 meeting that was part of the EPA’s investigation of perfluorinated chemicals. The agency was considering whether telomers used in AFFF, as well as the foam itself, should be part of that regulatory investigation. Had the agency concluded that the other surfactants in AFFF posed a significant threat, that step could have led fairly quickly to restrictions — or at least to a voluntary phase-out of the chemicals — as it eventually did with PFOA and PFOS.
But at the meeting, the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition asked the EPA to exempt it from the regulatory process. ‘The Fire Fighting Foam Coalition strenuously argued that these newer chemicals were safe … and EPA basically bought that,’ Rob Bilott, an attorney who was at the meeting, recalled recently. ‘It was so slick.’…
Some at the Navy seem to have anticipated the confusion that would result from singling out two chemicals for response while many other similar, potentially hazardous compounds are clearly also present. A draft version of a March 2016 document on the Navy’s comprehensive strategy around contamination from the perfluorinated compounds in AFFF obtained by The Intercept revealed an interest in limiting the public’s knowledge of the range of contaminants in their water…
Further complicating matters is that many of the shorter chain molecules for which the EPA has yet to set drinking water standards — and the military has yet to directly address — appear to be more difficult and more expensive to filter out of water than PFOA or PFOS…
According to Tom Cortina of the Fire Fighting Coalition, the military didn’t adopt the [non-toxic] alternative foam because it was inferior to AFFF. ‘As for fluorine-free foam, it is well known and objective testing has shown that it is significantly less effective than AFFF for extinguishing flammable liquid fires,’ Cortina wrote in an email to The Intercept. ‘Fluorine-free foams are currently unable to meet the requirements of the US military specification.’ Dynax did not respond to inquiries for this article.
But nine firefighting professionals interviewed for this story described similar dynamics within the firefighting foam industry, with manufacturers and sellers of AFFF fiercely defending their market by discrediting alternative foams. Even before the U.S. Navy was testing the Solberg foam, the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition attacked the notion that anything could compete with AFFF.”
Read the full article by Sharon Lerner.