The target audience for this discussion blog is the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR’s) of a large organisation that train for emergency situations. The HSRs share a private communication platform known as Yammer. Yammer is the place where they share ideas, articles, blogs on all health and safety related issues. Communication through Yammer is suitable as it is the quickest way to reach out to all regional HSRs in a non formal context. This is a fictional scenario although the issues and references concerning the use of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) are factual.
I understand everyone’s favourite day of the year is when we do our annual firefighting training, but as the Health and Safety Representatives for our organisation, I would like to enlighten you on some research I have been doing with regards to the fire extinguishers we train with.
One of the firefighting foams we use is called Aqueous Film Forming Foam or better known as AFFF.
It’s been a great experience to be able to use real fighting equipment and foam with our simulation fires, but how much do we know about the ecological and health hazards of AFFF?
This AFFF product has been found to contain non-biodegradable fluorosurfactants that are environmentally persistent (does not break down), therefore if we don’t discharge using the correct controls measures, contamination of soil, local streams and dams may occur.
Evidence of the ecological hazards using AFFF can be read in a recent report by AECOM Co. The report details a large organisation whose repeated usage of AFFF at sites where discharge has been inappropriately contained and disposed of, has lead to the contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface waters. The AECOM report recommends that residents in the ‘Southern Area’ not shower, bathe or fill pools with groundwater or consume milk from dairy cows exposed to surface water or groundwater or eat beef grown within the area. Pretty serious stuff!!
Generally, from what I have observed during training days, procedures are followed and the sewage system or our holding tanks are used without incident, although without soil contamination testing and a review of our hierarchy of controls, how do we know we are implementing the highest standard of care?
My recommendation would be to test our surrounding soil for precautionary measures and substitute the AFFF fire extinguishers with protein foam that is more environmentally friendly.
AECOM Services Pty Ltd (2016) Stage 2B Environmental Investigation Report, Executive Summary: RAAF Base Williamtown NSW, Department of Defence. Retrieved from http://www.defence.gov.au/id/_Master/docs/Williamtown/ESAReports/2016ESAReport-ExecutiveSummary.pdf
Environmental, Heritage and Risk Branch (2003) Environmental issues associated with Defence use of an aqueous film forming foam. Retrieved from http://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Disclosures/387_1415_Document.pdf