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Firefighting foam being replaced at Peterson

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Aqueous Film Forming Foam used to fight fires at Peterson Air Force Base and other Department of Defense installations is being replaced with a new product, Phos-Chek 3.

According to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the new AFFF formula contains shorter chain molecules than the previously used legacy formula. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests the lower chain formulas have lower toxicity levels because the chemicals clear from the body more quickly and are not deemed bio-accumulative or bio-persistent. AFCEC says the new formula meets military requirements for firefighting, as well as the goals for the EPA’s perfluorooctanoic acid stewardship program.

The Air Force started receiving shipments of 418,000 gallons of the new AFFF in August. About 2,700 gallons of the product arrived at Peterson Air Force Base in October, said Master Sgt. Steven Keir, 21st Civil Engineering Squadron fitness and health officer.

“We are replacing the legacy surplus of AFFF with (the new) formula by Dec. 15, 2016,” Keir said. “Sooner if possible.”

The Phos-Chek 3 Percent was delivered to all Air Force installations but one by the end of October, according to AFCEC. All but four of 180 installations around the globe will receive the new formula by 2017. The four installations yet to receive the new foam are remote locations where airlifting the product is cost prohibitive. Deliveries for those sites will be completed in spring 2017, weather permitting, AFCEC said.

Switching to the new AFFF requires disposal of the legacy product. About 1,120 gallons of the legacy foam was removed from PAFB on Nov. 2. A Defense Logistics Agency contractor is handling the disposal of legacy product from the base.

The disposal process requires more than just replacing existing foam in fire fighting vehicles with the new version. All Air Force fire trucks will be flushed out at least three times until the storage chambers run clear of any remaining foam, in accordance with disposal guidance.

The switch to a new AFFF involves retrofitting 806 fire vehicles throughout the Air Force, said Mark Kinkaide, AFCEC Public Affairs. The vehicles will be retrofitted with a switch mechanism allowing functionality to be tested without releasing any AFFF into the environment.

AFCEC said other measures taken by the Air Force to reduce or eliminate foam releases include standardizing hangar systems and replacing those containing the legacy AFFF as buildings are renovated, conducting fire training in double-lined pits to prevent soil and groundwater contamination, and treating any uncontained releases of AFFF as a hazardous material spill requiring immediate cleanup.

*Editor's Note: Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs contributed to this story.

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