Finding an alternative to firefighting foam ‘daunting’


The problems with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are well-documented at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The airport spent millions testing and providing water filtration systems for property owners south of the airport, where contamination was detected.

The airport’s PFAS woes are directly tied to the use of firefighting foams, used to fight jet engine fires.

According to the State House News Service, a task force is continuing to look into ways the state can address PFAS contamination.

The news service reported that last year’s state budget created the PFAS Interagency Task Force, led by House Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan and Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents the Vineyard, to study PFAS contamination, exposure pathways, and mitigation strategies. Its recommendations to the legislature are due by Dec. 31.

Probing issues around where PFAS contamination in Massachusetts comes from and who should bear responsibility for cleaning it up, the panel heard Tuesday from state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey and fire chiefs Peter Burke of Hyannis and John Dearborn of Longmeadow, the State House News Service reported.

Ostroskey said that as more information continues to emerge about PFAS chemicals, the Department of Fire Services has been trying to apply that information “as quickly as possible.”

The department teamed up with state environmental officials on a takeback program to collect and remove old firefighting foam containing PFAS, he said, and plans a Sept. 13 seminar for fire departments about replacing a type of foam known as AFFF, the news service reported.

“The proposition of replacing our foam stock commonwealth-wide is daunting,” Burke was quoted as saying. While departments would like to “immediately stop” the use of foam and replace it with environmentally friendly alternatives, doing so would be “impossible operationally,” and would require significant financial support, Burke said, the news service reported.

MVY Airport Director Geoff Freeman said he has not been contacted by the task force and asked to testify or be involved in any planning process, although the airport is still actively working to treat residential areas that were affected by PFAS.

He noted that the airport has equipped its fire trucks with the latest technology that allows for tests required by the FAA to be performed on the foam product without leaking PFAS into the environment.

“As of right now, those components are fully regulated by the FAA, and at this time they have not given us another option to replace the existing products that are out there,” Freeman said.

The airports that are already implementing the use of foam alternatives are not regulated by the FAA, Freeman said, and are town-structured departments.

He explained that all commercially regulated airports, like the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, are bound to adhere to FAA requirements for the type of firefighting product that is used.

Although the FAA is actively testing new products, and some alternatives have already been approved by the international version of the FAA, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it is unclear when the FAA will approve their use.

“The FAA is often a little slow to respond to proactive changes,” Freeman said. “As soon as we are given the OK, we will be immediately changing out that product. We do not want that product.”

The Vineyard airport was able to receive partial federal funding for upgrades to its fire truck and necessary tools for safely testing firefighting foam, and Freeman said he hopes the FAA would also pay for upgrades and technology adjustments necessitated by a change in the required product.

“The disheartening part of this is we are forced to comply with these regulations, and obviously it has contaminated water sources in our community,” Freeman said. “The FAA has not made an effort to help airports with these remediation costs — we are forced to pay out of our operating budget and take legal action against the foam manufacturers, but the FAA is just standing on the sideline at this point.”


  1. Sadly so much conversation revolves around cost. According to several sources the airport had a great summer.

    Spend some of those profits protecting the firefighting staff at the airport. Put them above your margins.

  2. sometimes the locals have to “just say no” .
    Really, what would happen if the airport officials said we are not going to contaminate our sole source aquifer to conduct frivolous testing on things we already know ?
    would the FAA shut down the airport ? I doubt it..
    Would we care if they did ?
    Not me —
    I loved it last year when no one was flying– it was quiet.
    How many of us remember the “no jets” movement of the late 1980’s ?
    We are now suffering the consequences of losing that battle .

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