The primary function of Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) is to save lives and protect property at 26 of Australia’s busiest airports. The ARFFS we provide must comply with Australian civil aviation regulations, which specify performance, training and operational requirements, including fire fighting foams.
Airservices has not used a fire fighting foam containing PFAS—per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances—since 2010 at any of our 24 civilian airport operations across Australia, and proactively began phasing out foams containing PFAS in the early 2000s.
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemical compounds that are used in a wide range of products including common household products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging and stain-resistant textiles.
They are also used in some fire fighting foams—specifically aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)—which have superior fire knockdown capability. AFFF is still used for fire suppression in many industries, including the petrochemical and aviation industries, and some public fire services.
PFAS have unique surfactant properties and many specialty applications including heat, chemical and abrasion resistance and as dispersion, wetting and surface treatments. They are extremely heat stable and resistant to breakdown. Two common PFAS are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Historic use of fire fighting foam
Various types of foams have been used by rescue fire fighting services at airports around Australia since the 1950s, in response to incidents and for training.
A fire fighting foam called 3M Lightwater was used from the early 1980s until the early 2000s, which contained PFOS as an active ingredient and other PFAS, including PFOA.
Following increasing concerns about the possible environmental and health impacts of PFOS, in 2003 Airservices changed to another, approved fire fighting foam called Ansulite that was understood to not contain PFOS or PFOA. It was later found to contain trace amounts of both these chemicals.
In 2010, Airservices transitioned to a PFAS-free foam, Solberg RF6, at all civilian airports where we provide ARFF services with the exception of the joint civil-military airports of Darwin and Townsville. However, we have not used foam for training or response at Darwin or Townsville since 2010.