Port of Seattle Fire Department initiates PFAS cleanup

July 4, 2024
Seattle Fire Department Engine

Port of Seattle Fire Department takes steps to eliminate PFAS

The Port of Seattle Fire Department has undertaken a significant initiative to remove toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from its firefighting equipment.

As reported by The Seattle Times, a six-day cleanup operation was carried out to flush these harmful chemicals from a fire truck, marking an important step in mitigating the environmental and health impacts of PFAS.

For decades, PFAS have been used in firefighting foams to combat high-intensity petroleum fires, playing a critical role at airports, military bases, and refineries.

However, these chemicals have been linked to various health issues, with manufacturers allegedly hiding their toxicity for years.

Firefighters, who were regularly exposed to these foams, have only recently become aware of the dangers.

Sea-Tac Airport leads the way with new technology

In response to increasing legislation and regulations to phase out PFAS, Sea-Tac Airport has implemented a specialized cleaning technology, becoming the first in the U.S. to do so.

By fall 2025, Washington State will require all 11 of its commercial airports to eliminate PFAS products.

Former Port of Seattle fire union President Thomas Sanchez, who lost friends and colleagues to cancer linked to PFAS exposure, expressed relief at the new regulations, hoping they will prevent future health issues for current firefighters.

Sanchez said: “It’s a little too late for some of my friends. I’m super happy for the people who are there. Maybe they’ll have a little more longevity.”

The cleaning process at Sea-Tac involved the use of PerfluorAd, a plant-based solution similar to organic dishwashing soap.

This solution was mixed with water, heated, and circulated through the firetruck’s tank and pipes, effectively binding with PFAS and removing it through a filtration system.

The treated water was then recycled or safely discharged into the sewer with approval from the King County Wastewater Division.

Firefighters support transition to PFAS-free alternatives

The transition to PFAS-free alternatives has been met with support from firefighters, despite the slightly increased effort required to combat fires.

Joey Pierotti, president of the Port of Seattle fire union, stated: “Our original tactic was you hit [the fire] with this [PFAS-laced] foam and it pretty much killed it.

“Now it’s a little bit lengthier of a process, but still does the same job. I think it’s a pretty good trade for long-term career health versus a little bit more work.”

Michael White of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, who testified in support of the 2018 bill to restrict PFAS, highlighted the exposure risks firefighters faced: “Firefighters are handling buckets of the stuff, and they’re being exposed to it.” He added that he had “become an expert at watching my brothers and sisters get cancer.”

Ongoing efforts and future implications

This initiative underscores the Port of Seattle Fire Department’s proactive approach in addressing the dangers of PFAS.

Sea-Tac Fire Chief Randy Krause, who has been advocating for the removal of PFAS since 2010, celebrated the milestone, drawing an analogy: “If you put the dishes in the dishwasher and you use cold water, do they come out clean? They don’t. If you put in warm water, they may get a little bit cleaner, but you need the solution. So I put a little soap in there and it cleans it. We are doing that.”

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