What are PFOS and PFOA?
Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are a group of manmade chemicals used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes including: nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and firefighting foam.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency established health advisory levels in drinking water for two types of PFCs - perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOS and PFOA are classified as emerging contaminants because they do not have established regulatory standards, but evolving science has identified potential risk to humans and regulatory standards are under consideration.
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The Air Force and PFOS/PFOA
PFOS and PFOA are components of legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) the Air Force began using in the 1970s as a firefighting agent to extinguish petroleum fires; AFFF provides essential burn-back resistance, protection against vapor release and rapid extinguishment.
In November 2015, more environmentally responsible AFFF formulas were added to the DOD’s qualified products list for firefighting agents. The Air Force began replacing both PFOS-based and other legacy AFFF products with a new, environmentally responsible formula in August 2016. The Air Force completed new foam delivery in August 2017.
The Air Force’s investigation work and mitigation actions are guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, applicable state laws and the EPA's lifetime drinking water health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. LEARN MORE ABOUT CERCLA.
The Air Force's Effort to Prevent Future Releases
The Air Force is taking steps to guard against future contamination by replacing legacy AFFF stockpiles with a foam that reduces PFOS/PFOA exposure, Phos-Chek 3 percent, six carbon chain AFFF. The Air Force is taking additional steps to reduce or eliminate unnecessary foam releases by:
• Retrofitting all fire vehicles with a switch mechanism to test functionality without discharging AFFF into the environment.
• Standardizing hangar systems and replacing systems containing the old formulation in conjunction with building renovations.
• Conducting fire training exercises in double-lined pits to prevent soil and groundwater contamination.
• Treating any uncontained releases of AFFF as if it were a hazardous-material spill and requiring immediate cleanup.