Read the full article by Lisa Martine Jenkins

“The US Congress has passed legislation directing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to change its requirement that airports use firefighting foam containing highly fluorinated chemicals, or PFASs.

The provision is included in a larger legislative package – the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (HR 302) – that covers a range of reforms to the FAA, as well as federal disaster programmes. It directs the FAA to no longer require the use of fluorinated chemicals to meet federal performance standards for extinguishing agents used in airports nationwide.

The legislation calls for the agency to make this change within three years of the bill being signed into law on 5 October, in coordination with the EPA and using the latest version of National Fire Protection Association 403 – Standard for aircraft rescue and fire fighting services at airports.

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) – a foam with fluorinated chemicals – is currently the norm for airports, in a form that accords with military specifications. But the legislation has tasked the FAA with adapting its standards to also allow for a non-fluorinated option, such as the fluorine-free synthetic foam option included in NFPA 403.

The legislation does not seek to ban the use of PFASs in firefighting foams outright, but rather allows the use of alternatives at airports. According to the NGO Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), such alternatives have successfully been used in European airports like Heathrow and Copenhagen.

Nevertheless, the PFAS-containing foams may see pressure at the state level.

Earlier this year, Washington state passed a law restricting the use of PFASs in firefighting foams. The law allowed an exemption for foams that contained PFASs to meet federal requirements, but included a provision saying that the state’s department of ecology may adopt rules to restrict them if federal regulations change to allow alternative firefighting agents.

Once the FAA updates its regulations in light of Congress’s recent move, there appears to be room for Washington to restrict PFAS-containing foams in airport firefighting contexts…

PFASs are a broad class of chemicals present in many consumer products. According to the EPA, certain PFASs – like PFOA and PFOS – have been studied widely and have found to have adverse effects on human health. For others, including newer ‘short-chain’ alternatives, the effects are less clear. PFASs are very persistent in the environment and the human body; according to the EPA, and most people have been exposed to them.

The substances have been involved in a flurry of activity recently, playing out both legislatively and judicially on both large and small scales. For instance, an expert committee under the Stockholm Convention has recommended global action on PFOA, PFOS, and PFHxS and a class action lawsuit about PFAS exposure has recently been filed by an Ohio firefighter. “