Air Force to eliminate PFAS-containing foam from hangar fire suppression systems

  • Published
  • By Mollie Miller
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The Department of the Air Force is on track to be the first service to meet the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to shut down all hangar fire suppression systems that dispense Aqueous Film Forming Foam.   

AFFF, a fire suppressant used in the past by Department of Defense and civilian firefighting teams to combat fuel fires, contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The EPA has issued lifetime health advisories for these substances and identified them as emerging contaminants.   

Signed at the end of 2019, the 2020 NDAA responded to increased public concern surrounding PFAS contamination by issuing several directives including a provision requiring the DoD to phase out AFFF at all military installations by Oct. 1, 2024. In response, the Air Force established an AFFF Sundown Policy outlining the service’s plan to lockout and tagout all AFFF hangar systems. The policy details how the foam systems will be “locked out” at the tanks by closing and locking the valves that connect the foam to the hangar fire suppression systems. The tanks will then be tagged for removal with AFFF signage.      

Removing AFFF will commence after the lockout and tagout of the systems and is an important mandate for the Air Force as the service takes measures to reduce the risk of mission related PFAS release impacts on drinking water supplies, according to Michael Six, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Chief Fire Protection Engineer.   


“The health of our Airmen, families and community partners is a top priority,” he said. “Eliminating AFFF from our hangar systems is one more way we are honoring our commitment to the total Air Force team.”  

According to the Air Force’s AFFF Sundown Policy, all AFFF tanks currently connected to Air Force hangar fire suppression systems will be locked and tagged for removal by no later than March 1. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and base civil engineers around the world to manage the disposal of the AFFF to meet the 2024 deadline set by Congress.    

Except for four hangars identified by the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Installations, Environment & Energy) as “mission critical,” all hangars will be converted to water only sprinkler systems. 

“(The Air Force Secretariat) is taking a risk-based approach based on historical data of the low probability of fuel fires versus the mission impact of false activations,” Six said. “Passive alternatives are available if there is a change in Fire Protection guidance.”   

Bridgett Ashley and her team at the Air Force Innovation Lab at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, are busy researching and identifying the AFFF-based fire suppression system alternatives that may be used in the future. Ashley, the AFCEC Fire and Emergency Services Research Lead, said her team of engineers, technicians and firefighters has conducted several research projects related to new fire extinguishment technologies.   

“We have been researching and testing AFFF alternatives since 2016,” she said. “In 2019, we started testing commercial-off-the-shelf alternatives and, to date, have tested 12 florine-free foams and are currently testing or have completed testing on three non-foam technologies for hangar applications.”   

The policy for AFFF removal in the hangars is only half of the Air Force’s plan to eliminate the PFAS-containing foam from firefighting activities. AFFF in fire vehicles must also be replaced based on the provisions outlined in the 2020 NDAA. AFCEC Division Chief Kevin Matlock said the Air Force is waiting on authorization to swap the AFFF in the vehicles with a florine-free foam. The change out is anticipated to be complete by late 2024.    

“Pending no supply chain or logistical issues, the transition to FFF for fire vehicles should be complete no later than September 2024, allowing us to meet the 2020 NDAA deadline,” he said. 

Additional AFFF alternative testing and research is on-going. Ashley said several key projects are expected to be completed in 2024.