Arizona fire stations to receive help disposing of cancer-causing firefighting foam

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will start a “take-back and replace” program across the state to dispose of poly-fluoroalkyl substances.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 4:17 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona fire stations are getting state-funded help in 2023 to eliminate firefighting foam that’s been linked to cancer.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will start a free “take-back and replace” program across the state to remove, dispose of, and replace the foam made of poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.

PFAS has been nicknamed “forever chemicals” since they stay around for a long time and have been proven to cause severe health effects.

This effort comes on the heels of a $4 million grant split between Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and state fire departments to research how best to reduce occupational-related cancer. Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified firefighter exposure as cancer-causing. Studies have shown firefighters can be in contact with PFAS through burning household items, contamination from PPE, firefighting foam, and more. Further research conducted by The University of Arizona Health Sciences has indicated that exposure to these materials can cause DNA alterations, which could easily lead to cancer.

“Protecting Arizonans and Arizona’s precious water resources from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) impacts is critical,” said ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera, P.E. “In addition to posing risks to firefighters’ health, uncontrolled release of firefighting foam containing PFAS has the potential to create adverse impacts to our communities if it reaches drinking water, groundwater or surface water.”

Laura Malone with the ADEQ says through a recent statewide survey they found rural fire departments use aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which contains the PFAs. It is mainly used to put out petroleum-based fires. The organization will begin its pilot program, removing and replacing the foam from 24 fire departments in 14 counties across the state. “Primarily smaller fire departments who have AFFF foam in their inventory might not be able to have the funds to dispose of it and replace it with a non PFAS related material. So what we thought is we would hire a contractor and do what we call a ‘milk run’ and have that contractor go and collect the PFAS AFFF foam and replace it with the non PFAS and take that material for disposal,” Malone explained.

Arizona law already prohibits using PFAS-containing foam unless required by law or done in a facility with proper containment, treatment, and disposal efforts. Disposal procedures are expensive, so the ADEQ hopes to mitigate those costs for municipal fire departments that may not have the funds for legal disposal.

Bryan Jeffries is a Valley fire captain and paramedic. He has been in the field for 30 years and says his job changed his life. “I was diagnosed with the number one cancer firefighters get which is seminoma,” Jeffries said. “There was no doubt by any of us that it was a direct result of my job.”

Jeffries says this is a step in the right direction. “What we can do for the young members of our organization is do everything we can to try to get them out of this cancer epidemic we are facing and this would be a huge step forward in that regard,” he said.

ADEQ’s initial survey found 5,000 gallons of PFAS-containing foam scattered across the state. ADEQ plans to finish the disposal and replacement by the end of June 2023.