Broome County replaces firefighting foam containing hazardous chemicals
Local fire departments received nearly 1,000 gallons of a new type of firefighting foam Wednesday. Broome County purchased the new foam because the old kind contains PFAS, a group of harmful chemicals linked to cancer.
Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Part of that is because firefighters are often exposed to toxic chemicals that burn and are released into the air during a fire.
Experts have also traced these higher cancer rates back to the equipment that firefighters use. PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” have been linked to cancer, and are found in firefighters’ protective gear and in the foam they often use to extinguish fires.
The foam, also called Class B foam, essentially blankets a fire, cutting off oxygen and putting it out. Broome County Fire Coordinator Jeff Buckler said local firefighters usually use it to put out fires on highways and railways.
Firefighting foam containing PFAS has been steadily phased out across the state and country for years. New York passed a ban on the manufacture and sale of the foam in 2019.
Now, Broome County has purchased PFAS-free foam called “Green Plus” foam.
“If it wasn't for the county government taking a proactive approach to it, a lot of the fire departments, including mine, the rural volunteer departments, simply can't afford to replace this foam, and they would continue using it,” Buckler said.
Buckler said it’s up to the state to help dispose of the old foam. Back in 2017, the DEC collected old foam containing PFAS from multiple fire departments across the state.
The new foam will be distributed to fire departments across the county.
“We believe it's really important to provide the equipment that our first responders need. But it's also important to make sure that the equipment that they are using is safe,” County Executive Jason Garnar said.
Steuben County Emergency Services Director Tim Marshall said they disposed of firefighting foam containing PFAS in 2017 and some local fire departments purchased PFAS-free replacement foam. Chemung and Schuyler counties did not respond to a request for comment on their use of firefighting foam.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced legislation last week that would allow PFAS manufacturing companies to be sued over the effects of PFAS contamination.