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Living near an AFFF-contaminated site? Understanding Your Risks

Living near an AFFF-contaminated site Understanding Your Risks

In recent years, concerns surrounding the environmental and health impacts of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) have garnered increasing attention. Used widely in firefighting, AFFF contains chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

These PFAS chemicals have been linked to environmental contamination and potential health risks. For individuals residing in proximity to sites where AFFF has been used, understanding the associated risks becomes paramount.

This comprehensive guide delves into the multifaceted aspects of living near an AFFF-contaminated site. It offers insights into potential health risks, environmental implications, and the regulatory landscape.

What is AFFF and How Does it Contaminate Sites?

AFFF has a rich history and widespread application in firefighting. They are particularly helpful in addressing flammable liquid fires involving substances like gasoline or jet fuel. Extensively utilized by the U.S. military, civilian airports, and various facilities,  this firefighting foam incorporates key components known as PFAS.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality emphasizes the use of AFFF in fire-training areas and during emergency response incidents. Additionally, the foam’s usage within large aircraft hangars and buildings contributes to its pervasive presence in diverse environments.

AFFF enters the environment through various avenues, including spills, firefighting activities, and training exercises. Additionally, accidental releases from storage tanks, railcars, and piping during delivery exacerbate its environmental impact.

Upon release, AFFF’s persistent PFAS chemicals have the potential to contaminate soil, surface water, and groundwater. In the context of the widespread prevalence of PFAS, a U.S. Geological Survey study reveals that over 45% of the nation’s tap water contains one or more types of these chemicals. With more than 12,000 types of PFAS, the study highlights the challenges in detecting all variants. It emphasizes the urgent need to address the far-reaching consequences of AFFF contamination. 

Potential Health Risks of AFFF Exposure

The health risks of AFFF exposure are a matter of ongoing research, with uncertainties surrounding the full extent of health effects. Emerging evidence suggests links between AFFF exposure and various health concerns. They include an increased risk of cancer, thyroid problems, developmental issues in children, and potential impacts on the immune system. 

These risks are particularly significant for individuals exposed to AFFF on the job or through the consumption of contaminated water.

In response to the health challenges posed by AFFF exposure, multidistrict litigation (MDL) has been initiated. This MDL is characterized by the AFFF lawsuit, which seeks compensation for individuals experiencing health problems associated with exposure to AFFF.

According to TruLaw, the MDL addresses the collective claims of individuals who were exposed to firefighting foam and subsequently diagnosed with health issues. This legal action aims to hold AFFF manufacturers accountable for the injuries and health problems suffered by those exposed.

The lawsuit emphasizes the need for comprehensive legal measures to address the health risks associated with AFFF exposure. Individuals affected are encouraged to seek legal advice and consult healthcare professionals for personalized guidance based on their specific circumstances.

Understanding Your Specific Situation

The extent of contamination can differ based on the location, type of exposure, and individual factors. This emphasizes the need for a tailored approach to assessing risks. Contamination levels may be influenced by proximity to AFFF use, spill locations, and the persistence of PFAS in the environment.

Readers are encouraged to proactively gather information about the contamination status at their specific site, if available. Resources provided by government agencies, environmental groups, and health organizations can offer valuable insights into local contamination levels and associated risks. 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs notes the EPA’s role in regulating potentially harmful substances in air and drinking water. However, PFAS are not currently regulated. The EPA’s ongoing activities to understand PFAS toxicity, designate them as hazardous substances, and establish drinking water standards are critical areas of focus. 

Reducing Your Exposure

Reducing exposure to AFFF contaminants is paramount for safeguarding health. Practical tips can significantly minimize risks associated with their exposure. They include:

Filter Drinking Water

Consider certified in-home water treatment filters to lower PFAS levels. Install treatment systems in consultation with state-certified laboratories.

Minimize Soil Contact

Be cautious in areas potentially affected by AFFF contamination. Employ protective measures, such as gloves and appropriate footwear, when gardening or engaging in outdoor activities.

Thoroughly Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Rinse produce meticulously to remove potential contaminants. Peel or cook fruits and vegetables to further reduce exposure.

Stay Informed about Drinking Water Quality

Contact local water utilities to inquire about PFAS testing and remediation efforts. Follow official guidance from local environmental protection agencies or health departments.

The EPA provides essential guidance for individuals concerned about the quality of their drinking water. If connected to a public system, inquire about PFAS testing and remediation efforts. 

For private well users, conduct regular testing, consult state environmental or health agencies, and compare results to established standards. In case of persistent concerns, explore alternative water sources and consider certified in-home water treatment filters.

The Power of Advocacy and Action

Ongoing efforts, including legal actions and community initiatives, aim to raise awareness and push for regulatory changes. Individuals concerned about AFFF contamination can actively contribute by getting involved in advocacy. 

This includes contacting local representatives to express concerns and supporting environmental advocacy groups dedicated to addressing AFFF-related issues. Additionally, you can participate in community events focused on environmental awareness and remediation efforts. 

By participating in collective advocacy, individuals can amplify their voices and prompt governmental action. This collective effort will contribute to a broader movement aimed at preventing and mitigating the impacts of AFFF contamination on the ecosystems.

In conclusion, living near an AFFF-contaminated site is a complex issue with understandable concerns. While uncertainty and concerns are understandable, knowledge is your most powerful tool. 

By understanding the potential risks and taking steps to minimize exposure, you can navigate this situation with confidence and advocate for your health.

Remember, you are not alone. Numerous resources are available to support you, from healthcare professionals and environmental groups to community organizations and government agencies. By working together, we can raise awareness, push for solutions, and create a safer and healthier future for all.

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