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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington bans firefighting chemicals that may cause cancer

Water that may be contaminated with chemicals used in firefighting foam on Fairchild Air Force Base is flushed from a fire hydrant in Airway Heights last December. Washington is banning those chemicals for civilian fire departments, although it has no authority to extend the ban to military bases. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Firefighting foam with a chemical thought to cause cancer and other health problems will be banned in two years for local fire departments and districts in Washington.

A new law signed Tuesday bans the group of chemicals that are contaminating some wells in Airway Heights and other water sources near military bases, although it won’t directly affect that contamination.

Perfluorinated or polyfluorinated compounds, or PFAS, are a key ingredient in some foams used to extinguish fuel fires, and also are commonly applied to firefighters’ protective gear. They last a long time, are almost indestructible under most natural situations and travel easily through the soil to get into underground water supplies.

They may also be responsible for a high rate of cancers in firefighters, lawmakers were told in hearings for the bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday. Washington may be the first state to impose such a ban, which takes effect in 2020.

In Airway Heights, the contamination is linked to firefighters practicing with the foam on Fairchild Air Force Base. The state can’t tell the Defense Department not to buy foam with PFAS to put out aviation fuel fires on its bases but the foam can’t be used for training on bases or at airports. The bill is directed at local fire departments and fire districts, some of which already are finding substitutes or altering training to reduce the use of the foam except in real emergencies.