Eliminating Use of PFAS at Airports May Be Harder Than Congress Thought

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are rising contaminants which are topic to rising environmental regulation and laws, together with laws to outright ban their use in sure merchandise. Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to cease requiring PFAS in the foams used to fight certain fires at commercial airports, and to take action by Oct. 4, 2021. In complying with this order, FAA reveals the tough tightrope it has to stroll to fulfill the “intent” of Congress’ directive, whereas not likely assembly the objective Congress had hoped for. 

The FAA issued Certification Alert (CertAlert) 21-05, “Part 139 Extinguishing Agent Requirements,” addressing the continued use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to be able to meet the Oct. 4 deadline. In Part 332 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, Congress directed that after this date, FAA “…shall not require the use of fluorinated chemicals to meet the performance standards referenced in chapter 6 of AC No: 150/5210–6D and acceptable under 139.319(l) of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations.”

The CertAlert directs airports to proceed utilizing AFFF with PFAS except they’ll reveal one other means of compliance with the efficiency requirements stablished by the Division of Protection (DoD) for extinguishing fires at industrial airports. The FAA alert additionally reminds airports about the necessity to take a look at their firefighting tools. Airports can carry out the required testing by utilizing a tool that has been obtainable since 2019 which doesn’t require the discharge of any foam. Lastly, the FAA additionally reminded airports to adjust to state and native necessities for administration of foam after it has been discharged.

The FAA reported in its communication that it started developing a analysis facility in 2014 that was accomplished in 2019 and that it has been collaborating with DoD within the seek for fluorine-free options for AFFF. The FAA reported that it has examined 15 fluorine-free foams and located that none of them meet the strict DoD efficiency specs that are also imposed on industrial airports. Extra particularly, FAA stated the examined various foams had the next failings:

  • Elevated time to extinguish fires

  • Not as efficient at stopping a fireplace from reigniting

  • Not appropriate with the present firefighting tools at airports

AFFF was developed to combat gasoline fires on plane carriers the place the flexibility to suppress fires as quickly as potential and maintain them suppressed is important to the well being and security of pilots, crews, firefighters and the ship. The army specification (generally generally known as MilSpec) for efficient firefighting foams for gasoline fires is in place for each army and civilian airports.  For a few years, the implications of the use of AFFF to combat plane gasoline fires – most particularly, the opposed impression on groundwater and floor water – was not absolutely appreciated. Solely not too long ago has this menace been understood and solely much more not too long ago has the administration of firefighting particles been instantly addressed.

Congress might have thought it was eliminating a menace with the laws directing the FAA to not require airports to make use of AFFF. However FAA’s newest messaging on AFFF highlights simply how tough it’s to search out appropriate replacements, particularly when additionally they have to fulfill the DoD’s stringent efficiency requirements. The FAA did invite any airport, in the event that they establish a alternative foam that meets the efficiency requirements, to share that discovery with the FAA. Nevertheless, it’s unclear what that may accomplish when it’s the DoD and never the FAA that certifies a specific foam’s efficiency. 

In essence, FAA couldn’t remedy the problem that Congress gave it (approve a fluorine-free foam) and as an alternative used the CertAlert to approve airports to make use of such foams if they’ll discover them on their very own. The underside line is that insufficient progress has been made to meet congressional intent to cease utilizing AFFF at industrial airports, and airports are left with no alternative however to make use of PFAS containing foams.

There may be legislative exercise in lots of states to ban merchandise with PFAS and at the federal degree there have been legislative actions concentrating on the identical – like eradicating them from MREs. The FAA’s elimination of its mandate to make use of AFFF with out providing a PFAS-free various is a very seen instance of the problem in transitioning away from reliance on PFAS chemical compounds.

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