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PFOA should be banned worldwide, says white paper
Published:  17 September, 2018

Evidence of efficacy of fluorine-free fire-fighting foam to be presented at UN Stockholm Convention Review Committee meeting taking place this week.

Fluorine-Free Firefighting Foams (3F): Viable Alternatives to Fluorinated Aqueous Film-Forming Foams, has been prepared in preparation for the 14th meeting of the Stockholm Convention’s Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, which takes place 17-21 September in Rome.

The white paper has been written by experts in the field who have direct experience and knowledge of the effectiveness of fluorine-free firefighting foams as safer substitutes for AFFF. These include representatives from international airports, professional industrial responders, foam manufacturers, contamination remediation consultancies and petrochem operators. It has been published by IPEN, a network of 500 public-interest, non-governmental organisations in over 100 countries that aims to minimise or eliminate hazardous and toxic chemicals in the environment.

The meeting in Rome is expected to result in recommendations to governments to add PFOA to the Stockholm Convention: exemptions for certain uses such as in aqueous film-forming fire-fighting foam will be discussed.

The white paper says that, based on the evidence presented on the efficiency of fluorine-free foam, there should be no exemptions for continued production and use of PFOA and its precursors or PFOS in AFFF. Furthermore, the authors caution that replacement of other per-and polyfluorinated substances in AFFF, including short-chain PFAS, would be ‘regrettable substitutions that perpetuate harm to the environment and human health.’

PFOA is one of the most ubiquitous and well-studied substances in the large class of fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances). PFOA has been used to make non-stick pans and is found in textiles, fire-fighting foams, and medical devices, and is used in many other products and processes.

The paper concludes that the continued use of PFAS foams is not only unnecessary but would continue to add to the legacy and ongoing contamination that is responsible for the substantial, widespread and growing socio-economic and environmental costs being experienced globally.

In 2015, PFOA was nominated for a global ban under the UN Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. In 2017, the Stockholm Convention expert group noted the link between PFOA and serious illnesses in humans, including diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Heathrow Airport Fire Service compliance manager Graeme Day, one of the authors of the white paper, said, “We’ve seen that neither firefighter nor passenger safety has been compromised with use of fluorine-free foams and that we have a product that not only meets our operational and environmental responsibilities but can also be used for training. Runways become operational more quickly and there are zero clean-up costs.”

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international environmental treaty that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants. There are 182 parties to the Convention, 181 states and the European Union; non-ratifying states include the US, Israel, Malaysia, and Italy.

Following the meeting, the POP Review Committee will make recommendations to governments about adding PFOA to the treaty, including possible loopholes that would continue production and use. Other items on the agenda of the meeting pertain to the need for specific exemptions for PFOS, its salts and PFOSF. In May 2009, PFOS was added to the list as a restricted chemical with production allowed for certain uses.

The paper is available to download here; https://ipen.org/documents/fluorine-free-firefighting-foams