Cities in the War Against AFFF Firefighting Foam Contamination

The widespread use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) in firefighting operations has inadvertently led to a growing environmental crisis. AFFF, while effective in suppressing hazardous fires, contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

PFAS chemicals are notorious for their persistence and harmful effects on human health and the environment. 

As the alarming scale of AFFF contamination became evident, cities found themselves on the front lines of an escalating battle against this insidious threat.

This article delves into the proactive measures taken by urban regions to combat AFFF firefighting foam contamination.

What Is AFFF Firefighting Foam and Why Is It a Problem?

AFFF firefighting foam is used to extinguish fires that involve flammable liquids, such as jet fuel and gasoline. They contain a class of chemicals called PFAS. 

PFAS are persistent and bioaccumulative. This means that they do not break down easily in the environment and can accumulate in the bodies of animals and humans over time. PFAS exposure has been linked to several health problems, including cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental delays in children.

AFFF firefighting foam is a problem because it can contaminate drinking water, soil, and air. PFAS contamination occurs when AFFF foam is used to fight fires, when it is improperly disposed of, or when it leaks from storage facilities.

The issue has been underscored in the case of Oscoda, Michigan. Here, the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base’s use of AFFF has unleashed widespread PFAS contamination. According to Blue & Green Tomorrow, PFAS chemicals in the region have infiltrated the groundwater and surface water. The foam that periodically washes ashore at nearby Lake Van Etten was also found to be contaminated. 

Consequently, residents have been cautioned against consuming fish from the lake, and many have resorted to bottled water due to well water contamination. Oscoda serves as a stark testament to the enduring consequences of PFAS and the formidable challenges entailed in addressing and mitigating such contamination.

Lawsuits Filed Against AFFF Firefighting Foam Contamination?

Cities across the United States have embarked on legal battles against manufacturers of AFFF firefighting foam. They aim to address the grave environmental and health consequences caused by the presence of PFAS in the environment. 

Fort Worth, as reported by the Fort Worth Report, has recently joined the growing list of cities initiating legal action against these manufacturers. The city’s lawsuit seeks damages for potential soil and groundwater contamination attributed to the defendants’ products. This legal move is emblematic of a nationwide trend. Maryland has previously filed a similar lawsuit against major chemical manufacturers, including industry giants 3M and Dupont.

In the AFFF firefighting foam lawsuit, cities assert that manufacturers were aware of the hazardous nature of PFAS, yet they concealed this information. The lawsuit typically rests on the grounds of environmental pollution and public health hazards associated with the product. 

Cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and San Diego have also taken legal action, collectively demanding accountability and reparations for the damage caused. 

TruLaw notes that while the outcomes of these lawsuits are pending, they represent a pivotal step toward holding manufacturers accountable. They mark a unified effort by cities to seek justice and safeguard the well-being of their residents and environments.

AFFF Firefighting Foam Cleanup Initiatives

In response to the pervasive contamination caused by AFFF, cities have been taking active measures to address the issue through comprehensive cleanup initiatives. The State of Michigan, for instance, has been at the forefront of such efforts. 

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has undertaken a significant cleanup program to collect and safely dispose of PFAS-containing AFFF. As revealed by the State of Michigan, 60,000 gallons of AFFF have been collected from commercial airports and fire departments across the state. This marks the fourth year of the $1.6 million AFFF foam pick-up and disposal program.

The collected Class B AFFF has been meticulously disposed of at licensed hazardous waste landfills located out of state. This proactive approach adopted by Michigan has prevented tens of thousands of gallons of concentrated PFAS compounds from infiltrating watersheds. 

Regulatory Advocacy and Policy Changes

Urban settlements have been actively engaged in advocating for stricter regulations and policy changes aimed at mitigating the risks associated with AFFF firefighting foam. Efforts in this domain have gained momentum as municipalities work to prevent future contamination and protect public health.

In North Carolina, for instance, Senate Bill 658 allocated $20 million to the North Carolina Collaboratory for programs related to AFFF. This bill introduces a buyback program to exchange PFAS-containing firefighting foams for PFAS-free alternatives, addressing the source of contamination. 

Additionally, it establishes a training site to educate firefighters on the responsible use of AFFF while minimizing environmental impact.

Moreover, SB 658 focuses on health impacts. It allocates funds for research grants to assess long-term health risks to firefighters and cognitive risks associated with fluoride levels in public water supplies. It further earmarks funds for PFAS research projects, including a multiyear human exposure study in counties with higher-than-average PFAS exposure.

Challenges and Roadblocks Faced

Cities engaged in the battle against AFFF contamination encounter a range of formidable challenges. One major obstacle is navigating complex legal proceedings against AFFF manufacturers, as these cases often involve extensive litigation and resource-intensive processes. 

Financial constraints pose another significant challenge, as funding cleanup initiatives and legal actions can strain city budgets.

Technological solutions for AFFF cleanup and disposal remain limited, and finding environmentally sound methods is an ongoing struggle. Additionally, addressing contamination already present in water sources and soil is a complex and time-consuming task.

Despite these challenges, cities are displaying resilience and determination. They seek creative funding solutions, including grants and partnerships with federal and state agencies. Collaboration with environmental experts and research institutions aids in developing innovative cleanup technologies. 


In the battle against AFFF contamination, cities have emerged as determined champions, confronting this pervasive environmental and health threat head-on. Despite formidable challenges, these urban centers have not wavered in their commitment to safeguarding their communities and ecosystems.

Cities are leading the charge for accountability, taking legal action against AFFF manufacturers, advocating for stricter regulations, and launching cleanup initiatives. The collective efforts of these townships, in collaboration with state and federal agencies and concerned citizens, are beginning to yield promising results.

Innovative solutions are emerging, funds are being allocated, and lessons are being learned. As municipalities strive to prevent future contamination and protect the well-being of their residents, their determination shines as a beacon of hope. 

The fight against AFFF contamination is far from over. However, with cities leading the way, there is reason to believe that a cleaner, safer future is within reach.

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