The State of Ohio has launched what officials say is a first-of-its-kind initiative to destroy firefighting foam containing hazardous per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

Nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they characteristically persist in the environment and the body, scientists have linked exposure to PFAS chemicals to health issues impacting fertility, the immune system, an increased risk of certain cancers, and affect the growth and behavior of infants and children.

Firefighters have widely used Aqueous Film Forming Foam to extinguish flammable liquid fires such as fuel fires.

Since Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill in 2022 banning the use of AFFF in firefighter training exercises, many fire departments have switched to PFAS-free alternatives to extinguish flammable liquid fires.

That left fire departments with the challenge of finding ways to dispose of AFFF safely.

Although incineration can destroy the foam, the PFAS contained in the foam is released into the air.  Burying the foam in a landfill can contaminate the surrounding ground.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's new Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) Takeback Program uses what’s been dubbed PFAS Annihilator® technology to destroy PFAS in the foam to non-detectable levels through the process known as supercritical water oxidation.

Annihilator technology uses extreme heat and pressure to chemically transform PFAS into carbon dioxide and inert salt, destroying the PFAS and leaving no harmful byproducts or residual contamination.

The program is funded with $3 million in settlement money that Ohio received as part of the state's polychlorinated biphenyl enforcement case against Monsanto.

It should come as no surprise that with the huge amounts of fuel needed for aircraft, firefighters at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station used AFFF for years during training and assisting surrounding fire departments when needed.

The Department of Defense has ordered that AFFF be phased out at all military installations by October 2024.

Officials at the air base tell 21 News that trucks used by the 910th Airlift Wing Civil Engineer Fire Department can use AFFF strictly for aircraft emergencies. However, according to an Air Base public affairs official, Air Force Fire Departments have not been permitted to use AFFF for off-base mutual aid calls since 2021 under a directive from Air Force Headquarters.

 The DoD and Air Force have developed a non-carcinogenic, PFAS-free foam product to replace AFFF and are in the process of replacing AFFF with the new foam product.

 The 910th anticipates having the new foam in all their trucks by the end of 2024.