AFFF Firefighter Foam Navy | History and Health Risks

The U.S. Navy has utilized Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) for over five decades. Due to its widespread usage, more than 700 military sites across 50 states are known or suspected of PFAS contamination, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). 

AFFF is particularly effective in extinguishing fires involving flammable liquids such as jet fuel and oil. Its capacity to create a thin, protective film over the liquid surface aids in fire suppression and prevents re-ignition. However, it was discovered that AFFF contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which harm the environment and human health. 

fire fighting foams

What Is the Historical Usage of AFFF in the U.S. Navy?

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has a long history in the U.S. Navy, spanning several decades. Let’s explore the historical use of AFFF in the Navy.

Early Development (1960s)

In the 1960s, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) collaborated with the 3M Company to explore synthetic chemicals, specifically per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in firefighting foams to improve the suppression of hydrocarbon fuel-based fires. The NRL utilized 3M’s perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), known as C8, and used it to make Teflon, along with perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), the primary component of Scotch Guard, to create the Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF).

Initial Use (1960s-1970s)

In the late 1960s, the U.S. Navy mandated that all its vessels carry AFFF, the fire suppressant developed by the Navy. In the 1970s, the Department of Defense also started using AFFF to combat dangerous fuel fires at military installations. By the late 1970s, AFFF was heavily utilized by the military and adopted by over 90 U.S. airports and numerous civilian fire departments.

In the mid-1970s, an innovative type of AFFF known as aqueous film-forming polar foam emerged. This specialized foam tackled hydrocarbon-based fires and proved effective in combating fires caused by water-soluble solvents like alcohol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, thinners, and other flammable liquids. This polar foam is known as “alcohol-resistant (A.R.) foam.”

Peak Use (1980s)

Continuous research and development efforts led to advancements in AFFF formulations and application methods. The use of AFFF peaked in the 1980s. It was due to several factors, such as the increasing use of jet fuel in the Navy, the growing availability of AFFF, and the perception that AFFF was a safe and effective fire suppressant.

Following its initial collaboration with the Naval Research Laboratory, the 3M Company became the exclusive supplier of AFFF to the military, providing the product from around 1962 until 1982. Subsequently, from 1983 to 1988, both 3M and Ansul Inc. supplied AFFF firefighting foam to the military.

Concerns About Health Risks (1990s-Present)

During the 1990s, growing concerns arose regarding the potential health risks of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) exposure. These concerns emerged due to the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known to be environmentally persistent and capable of accumulating in the human body.

Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established links between PFAS exposure and various health issues, including cancer, thyroid disease, and reproductive problems.

Alternatives of AFFF (2000s-Present)

The Navy and other military departments began addressing the environmental and health risks of AFFF containing PFAS chemicals. It raised awareness and efforts to find safer alternatives to minimize the risks posed by these toxic substances.

As a result, the Naval Research Laboratory is trying to find a replacement for AFFF that is just as effective at combating fires but does not contain any PFAS.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) shall not be used at any military installation on or after October 1, 2024. DOD also suggested U.S. Navy some alternatives to AFFF, such as:

  1. Ignitable liquid drainage floor
  2. High-Expansion foam
  3. Trench nozzles
  4. Water mist
PFAS containing AFFF-environmental concerns

What Are the Health Risks of AFFF Firefighter Foam Exposure?

Exposure to Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) can pose health risks, primarily due to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its formulation.

Here are some potential health effects associated with AFFF exposure:

  1. Cardiovascular Disorders

PFAS can accumulate in the capillaries and arteries over time. The body’s ability to eliminate these chemicals is limited, leading to bioaccumulation, causing severe cardiovascular disorders such as heart attack.

  1. Hormonal Disruption

PFAS compounds can interfere with hormone function in the body, potentially affecting reproductive and thyroid hormones. Hormonal disruption can lead to various health issues, including fertility problems and disruptions in the endocrine system.

  1. Liver Damage

Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have suggested a link between high levels of PFAS exposure and liver damage. Long-term exposure to PFAS has been associated with an increased risk of liver dysfunction and liver disease.

Similarly, excessive PFAS chemicals in the liver can disturb its detoxification process. This can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the liver. Eventually, damaging the liver and impair its functioning.

  1. Immune System Suppression

Studies by the National Library of Medicine have shown that PFAS exposure can interfere with the production and function of immune cells, including white blood cells that help fight off infections. As a result, the body’s ability to defend against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens can be compromised. A weakened immune response can increase the risk of infections, prolonged illness, and difficulty in recovering from common illnesses.

  1. Increased Cancer Risk

Researchers have identified specific PFAS compounds as potential carcinogens. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found associations between PFAS exposure and the following types of cancer:

  • Kidney Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Childhood Leukemia
  1. Developmental and Reproductive Issues

According to studies conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), exposure to PFAS has been linked to adverse developmental issues in children, including delayed growth and development. Moreover, there is evidence suggesting negative impacts on fetal development during pregnancy.

  1. Other Health Problems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have linked PFAS chemicals to various health problems, including:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Decrease in infant birth weights
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women

Are You a Navy Veteran Who Is Exposed to AFFF? Consult Uptown Injury

If you or a loved one has been affected by AFFF exposure and are considering filing a firefighter cancer lawsuit, Uptown Injury Law Firm is here to help. Our experienced team of AFFF attorneys specializes in mass tort cases. We will provide you with the expert guidance and support you need to win the compensation you deserve. 

Don’t navigate the legal process alone. Contact us today or call us at 917-540-8728 to schedule a FREE consultation. Let us assist you in filing a firefighter cancer lawsuit.


Which Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Has the Navy Commonly Used?

The United States Navy commonly uses two types of AFFF. The first is 3% AFFF, a mixture of 3% concentrate and 97% water, suitable for various applications. The second type is 6% AFFF, which is more concentrated with a mixture of 6% concentrate and 94% water, used for demanding firefighting tasks like airport firefighting.

Who Commonly Uses AFFF as a Firefighting Foam?

Firefighting organizations and industries commonly use Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) to combat fires involving flammable liquids. These include municipal fire departments, the U.S. Navy, the air force, armed forces, airports, the oil and gas industry, and other entities where the risk of fires is significant.

What Is the Main Goal of the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition (FFFC)?

The Fire Fighting Foam Coalition (FFFC) primarily aims to promote the responsible and effective use of firefighting foams, especially AFFF. Additionally, they strive to tackle environmental issues associated with PFAS-containing foams and support research to improve firefighting foam technology while minimizing health and environmental impacts.

What Is the Composition of AFFF?

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) combines water, synthetic surfactants, fluorinated surfactants, and stabilizing agents. The fluorinated surfactants, known as fluorosurfactants, form the protective aqueous film over the fuel surface, which helps suppress the fire.

Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim If I Lost a Loved One from an AFFF-related Cancer?

Yes, if you lost a loved one to AFFF-related cancer, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Compensation can cover medical bills, loss of companionship, pain, and suffering, and lost income. Contact an experienced firefighting foam lawyer to know your legal rights and how to pursue legal action.

What Damages Am I Eligible for in an AFFF Lawsuit?

In an AFFF lawsuit, the damages that an individual may be eligible for can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the applicable laws. Generally, potential damages can include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and other related losses.

How Can a Firefighting Foam Attorney Assist Me in Pursuing an AFFF Lawsuit?

An AFFF lawyer can assist you in a firefighting foam lawsuit by providing expertise, guiding you through the legal process, and advocating for your rights. Your lawyer will gather evidence, build a strong case, handle negotiations with the defendants, and represent you in court if needed.

Can AFFF Impact Individuals Who Are Not Firefighters?

Yes, AFFF contamination can affect communities surrounding firefighting training areas, airports, and other locations where AFFF has been used. Moreover, environmental contamination and subsequent exposure pathways can impact the health of individuals in these areas.


Kyle Newman Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Uptown Injury Law New York's Best Personal Injury Medical Malpractice and Accident Law firm New York's Top Trial Lawyers
Kyle Newman Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Uptown Injury Law New York's Best Personal Injury Medical Malpractice and Accident Law firm New York's Top Trial Lawyers

This content is trustworthy because it has been thoroughly researched, fact-checked and reviewed by experts in the field. The information provided is accurate and reliable, and sources have been cited to ensure transparency and credibility. The authors or publishers of this content have a reputation for producing high-quality, unbiased material. Additionally, any potential conflicts of interest or biases have been disclosed. Overall, readers can trust that the information presented in this content is trustworthy and credible.