A series of reference materials contains precise measurements of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as forever chemicals, in firefighting foams. These foams, called aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), are used to suppress fuel fires. Analytical labs can use the reference materials for measuring PFAS in the foams so they can be removed.
Credit: J. Reiner/NIST
In movies, when we see fiery car crashes or flaming planes on runways, we know they are not real. But in the real world, fuel fires must be quenched with special kinds of chemicals, and the ones that have been most commonly used are known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs). However, environmental and health concerns about AFFFs have launched widespread efforts to detect, monitor and eventually eliminate them. Now, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released new reference materials to expedite these efforts.
What makes the foams so effective are chemical compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), enabling them to suppress fuel fires much more quickly and efficiently compared with other alternatives. Unlike water dumped on a flame, which wouldn’t work in a scenario where a flammable liquid is causing the fire, the foams not only spread over the fire but prevent it from reigniting by suppressing oxygen flow and fuel vapors. AFFFs were first introduced in the 1940s and have been used since that time not only in emergencies but also in firefighter training exercises.
Due to their significant ability to resist heat and chemical changes, the PFAS in these foams bre ..
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