The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is encouraging manufacturers to phase out of manufacturing the larger chain synthetic fluorinated chemicals in favor of fluorochemicals with six or less carbons-the smaller chain fluorochemicals are considered to be more environmentally friendly.  Understanding what this change means, the history behind it, and how it affects the firefighting foam industry will make this transition a lot easier.

What do these terms mean and why is everyone talking about transitioning from C8 to C6?

In the past, large synthetic fluorinated chemicals, most notoriously perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), have been used in various industrial applications including firefighting foams.  When discussing PFOA people often refer to it as C8 due to the fact that the molecule has an 8 carbon chain.  This molecule is also labeled as a fluorochemical due to the fact that it also contains a large amount of fluorine atoms connected to that carbon. Following that same logic, the fluorochemical industry uses the term C6 for a fluorochemical with only 6 carbon atoms.  Therefore, while much of the concern is over PFOA due to their large industrial and manufacturing use, the discussion to move away from C8 to C6 is a broad issue to move away from all large synthetic fluorochemicals.

What is so bad about these large synthetic fluorochemicals?

Studies done throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s found that PFOA was accumulating in the environment which doesn’t contain a natural process to break it down.  Eventually this accumulation found its way into the water supply which lead to its presence in the human and animal bloodstreams.  In a response, the US EPA started the PFOA Stewardship Program and teamed with some of the biggest fluorochemical producers to reduce the amount of manufactured PFOA and other related chemicals (large synthetic fluorochemicals).  After years of voluntary participation in the PFOA Stewardship Program and developing new regulations for those not participating, the US EPA is reporting a large reduction of PFOA in human blood over the last few years.  The US EPA is continuing to develop new regulations to continue this trend and monitor the use of large synthetic fluorochemicals.

How does this affect the firefighting foam industry?

The firefighting foam industry has utilized PFOA and other large fluorochemicals in the past.  While much of the firefighting foam industry has already moved away from PFOA, some large-chain fluorochemicals still remain.  To fully eliminate large synthetic fluorochemicals from the industry, smaller and more environmentally conscious alternatives are being developed and used.  This can be quite a task as slight changes in chemical structure have huge impacts on molecular behavior.  Note that at this moment, the EPA’s reduction efforts are voluntary and they do allow for existing stocks of C8-based fluorochemicals to continue to be used, simply not manufactured.  As a result, some manufactures are communicating their participation to the consumer by stating their product does not contain any ingredient in violation of the US EPA PFOA Stewardship Program.  If you are interested in knowing if your product contains any fluorochemical ingredients affected by these programs and would like it tested, contact Dyne Technologies for more information.

For more information on this issue and its regulations, consult http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/.  If you are interested in more information on the foam industry and this issue, the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition has put together some great information at http://www.fffc.org/afff.php.  Dyne Technologies’ staff chemists are also available by phone at (800) 632-2304 or email at lab@dyneusa.com to answer questions you may have.