Local fire departments follow statewide program to dispose of toxic foam 

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2019 6:00:04 PM
Modified: 3/6/2019 6:00:12 PM

ATHOL — Fire departments throughout the state recently participated in a take-back program to dispose of a Class B firefighting foam that contains toxic chemicals. The Baker-Polito Administration announced last month that a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) program collected and destroyed more than 149,000 pounds (17,531 gallons) of legacy firefighting foam concentrate from public safety operations across the Commonwealth.

Athol Fire Chief Joseph P. Guarnera said his department did not have to dispose of any toxic legacy Class B foam because it uses Class A, AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam). Chief Guarnera stated that in the very near future he would like to go to the AFFF-AR (Aqueous Film Forming Foam Alcohol Resistant) type because it is the best extinguishing agent for ethanol, a grain alcohol added to gasoline.

Newer and higher end vehicles may use E85 (85%) ethanol added to their gas versus E10 (10%) ethanol added to their gas. Standard foam will not extinguish the higher alcohol based ethanol gasoline additive because its alcohol molecules strive to bond with water molecules. The AFFF-AR foam resists the ability of the alcohol in the ethanol fuel to absorb the water in the foam, resulting in a foam blanket that suppresses the vapors in the fuel causing the fire to go out. “If there’s a motor vehicle fire in the town, or on Route 2, and the vehicle involved uses the 15% ethanol or higher, the only way to put it out is by AFFF-AR. If not, the ethanol in the fuel will molecularly bond to the aqueous foam or water and start a river of flaming water. This is why I would like to purchase this type of foam in the very near future. It will be one more tool to be used to protect all involved,” Guarnera said.

There are two types of foam, Class A and Class B. Class A foam is a wetting agent mainly used for putting out structure fires and forest fires. Class B is made for flammable liquids and takes away vapors. Guarnera explained that the space between the wood and the flame is vapor. Solids and liquids do not burn, it is the vapors they emit that burn. By putting foam on the fire (produced by a combination of fuel, oxygen, heat and a chemical chain reaction), it takes away the oxygen which puts out the fire.

Interim Phillipston Fire Chief John Duguay said his department disposed of eight pails of the toxic foam and they are currently using FireAde AFFF liquid foam concentrate.

According to Governor Charlie Baker, old firefighting foams contain PFAS (Poly - and Perfluoroalkyl Substances) compounds that have been identified as posing a significant risk to human health. The program ensures that the chemical contaminants in the foam “can no longer pollute drinking water resources and fragile waterways or threaten public health.”

MassDEP, assisted by the Department of Fire Services (DFS), targeted old foam formulations manufactured before 2003. New England Disposal Technology, Inc. (NEDT) removed the legacy foam which was transported to a fuel-blending facility in Ohio and destroyed in a fuel incinerator.

MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg stated, “by partnering with Fire Services, local fire departments and the cleanup contractor, we were quickly able to determine the location of the PFAS -contaminated foam and eliminate that threat at no cost to the local fire agency. This foam take-back program will also go hand-in-hand with our efforts later this year to set drinking water and environmental cleanup standards for PFAS chemicals.”

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