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AFFF Exposure: A Serious Health Hazard for Navy Personnel

Being a Navy officer is a matter of pride as you get an opportunity to serve the nation and protect its frontiers. You are also a part of the third largest military services branch in the US when it comes to the number of people on the roll. According to 2021 statistics, the US Navy had 343,223 personnel and a massive budget of $162.9 billion. The number of people it employs will likely cross 347,000 in 2024.

While you can expect many facilities and benefits as a part of the force, plenty of risks are a part of the job. Besides the ones you know about, lesser-known threats abound for the Navy personnel. Exposure to Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is among these unanticipated risks you may face. AFFF contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the forever chemicals hazardous to human health.

Undoubtedly, AFFF can save lives and valuable assets, but overlooking its hazards is a grave mistake. We will highlight the health hazards of AFFF exposure to Navy personnel and suggest ways to mitigate them.

Use of AFFF in Navy Firefighting

The Department of Defense has allowed the use of AFFF firefighting foam for more than a half-century. The dire concern is that more than 700 military sites across the country may be contaminated with PFAS. As a part of Navy operations, AF fire foam has been in use to douse aircraft carriers’ fires because it is effective for extinguishing fires caused by aviation fuels and containing these blazes.

However, not everything about AFFF-based firefighting foam is great. While it can lower the risk of fire mishaps, PFAS exposure has grave long-term health risks for humans. In January 2023, the Department of Defense issued new guidelines for firefighting foam to extinguish jet fuel fires. It aims to stop using PFAS-based products entirely by October 1, 2024.

Further, the new guidelines require suppliers to certify that their products have no intentionally added PFAS. They also require foam testing to ensure no PFAS are present.

Health Consequences of AFFF Exposure

Over the years, health organizations and researchers have identified the health risks of PFAS chemicals. The high prevalence of severe medical conditions among firefighters brings attention to the hazards of long-term exposure to AFFF firefighting foam. Over the years, many firefighters have filed AFFF lawsuits to claim compensation for these medical conditions.

The growing prevalence of the AFFF lawsuit by Navy personnel shows that the problem is widespread among the military forces. Like full-time firefighters, Navy personnel have been using PFAS-based firefighting foam for years. The prolonged exposure to forever chemicals in the foam and groundwater in their surroundings makes them susceptible to several health risks. These include:

Cancer Risk

Several studies validate the link between PFAS exposure to various types of cancer. According to TruLaw, victims may suffer from cancers of the breast, bladder, colon, kidney, liver, prostate, or testes. While nothing can reverse the effect of long-term exposure, these victims can take legal recourse to claim compensation from firefighting foam manufacturers.

Immune System Dysfunction

Prolonged PFAS exposure can weaken immune responses, making individuals prone to diseases and infections. The concern is bigger for Navy personnel because compromised immune systems may affect their ability to work in their role.

Hormone Disruption

Another grave health risk of PFAS is that these chemicals can cause hormone imbalances by interfering with the endocrine system. This hormonal disruption can cause reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. The risk extends to the families of Navy personnel.

Awareness and Proactive Action

These health risks are significant, making it essential for Navy personnel to be aware and take proactive action to address them. Here are a few measures that can help:

  • The Navy should implement training programs to create awareness regarding the risks associated with AFFF exposure.
  • Safety protocols such as ensuring adequate ventilation and personal protective equipment during training exercises can reduce the chances of exposure.
  • Transition to environmentally friendly firefighting foams without harmful PFAS can protect the well-being of Navy personnel.
  • The government should do its bit by investing in continued research into the PFAS health effects and finding safer alternatives.

Wrapping Up

AFFF exposure is a big concern for Navy personnel because it contains harmful chemicals that linger in the body and the environment forever. Awareness is the best defense for people and organizations.

While people should take precautions at a personal level, the responsibility to protect them also extends to the military authorities and policymakers. Swift and decisive action to safeguard the Navy personnel is imperative to curb the health hazards of AFFF firefighting foam.