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Delaware lawmakers look to restrict use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
PFAS contamination made it into drinking water and residents' bodies after it was used in firefighting foam at the Delaware Air National Guard Base in the New Castle area.

A toxic class of chemicals used in some firefighting foamsmade its way into drinking water in several places throughout the state. Lawmakers are looking to restrict use of the foam, to prevent more pollution.


Senate Bill 63 would require any facilities training with firefighting foam containing a class of toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, to implement containment and disposal measures to prevent releases. It would still allow the foam—which is usually used to fight oil fires—to be used in emergency situations. 

The bill has bipartisan support, and currently awaits consideration in the state Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee. 

Potential health impacts of PFAS chemicals include certain cancers, pregnancy complications and lower infant birth weights, according to the federal government. 

Warren Jones is the executive manager of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association. He supports the bill, because of the risks the toxic foams pose to firefighters. 

“Cancer is one of the number one concerns of firefighting in this country,” Jones said. “More and more today of our people are being affected by cancer and dying of cancer.”

The bill would not affect the State Fire School in Dover, which runs most foam trainings for Delaware fire companies, says director Robert Newnam. 

“The Delaware State Fire School stopped using [PFAS-containing] AFFF foam last year,” Newnam said. “We now only use a foam that is entitled ‘green foam’—environmentally safe.”

Newnam says the non-toxic foam is less effective at suppressing fires than the kind containing PFAS. 

Jones says he hopes legislation like Senate Bill 63 will encourage the development of more effective alternatives.

A separate billintroduced to the state House last week would require the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Division of Public Health to establish an enforceable maximum contaminant level for PFAS chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in drinking water.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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