US states implement take-back programs to address foam disposal

April 2, 2024

Overview of state action on foam disposal programs

In a comprehensive summary released by the Fire Dept Service Announcement on March 30, 2024, detailed actions by various US states regarding take-back programs for foam disposal have been outlined.

These programs are part of a concerted effort to manage and reduce the environmental and health impact of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The bulletin, titled “State Programs,” provides an in-depth look at the cost, volume of foam collected, and cost per gallon by state, highlighting the significant variation in states’ approaches and the financial implications of these programs.

State-wise breakdown and financial implications

The data presented in the bulletin reveal that to date, over $31 million has been spent by states in collecting 553,449 gallons of foam.

Notably, North Carolina has incurred the highest cost per gallon at $166, with a total expense of $20 million for the collection of 120,094 gallons of foam.

In contrast, Massachusetts achieved the lowest cost per gallon at $6, spending just over $100,000 for 17,500 gallons.

The report also specifies that certain states, like Colorado and Ohio, have specific arrangements to facilitate the take-back programs, including payments to departments to purchase PFAS-free replacement foam.

StateYear Cost for CollectionCollected Foam (gallons)Cost per Gallon
Colorado2021 10,000  $40 *
Connecticut2021 $ 2,000,00040,000$50
New Hampshire2022$668,00010,000$67
New Jersey2024$250,00018,000$14
North Carolina2023$20,000,000         120,094**$166
Rhode Island2022$200,00011,000$18
Vermont2018 2,500 
Washington2023 40,000 
To date $31,213,560553,449
*    DPHE pays $40 per gallon to departments so that they can purchase PFAS-free replacement foam.
**   Inventoried in NC.
***  $40k to $70k estimated

Regulatory context and future implications

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed listing nine PFAS compounds as hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

This action is based on scientific studies demonstrating the toxic and carcinogenic effects of these chemicals.

The bulletin quotes, “To be listed as a hazardous constituent under RCRA, scientific studies must show that the chemical has toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic effects on humans or other life forms.” The implication for fire departments is a potential surge in the costs of AFFF removal, especially as EPA finalizes rules that may include “C6” products among those listed as hazardous materials (HazMat).

Impact and proactive measures by states

Several states have preemptively established take-back programs to mitigate the anticipated increase in disposal costs.

Sixteen states, excluding California which banned AFFF in 2020 but has yet to establish a take-back program, have acted to enable fire departments to dispose of AFFF and related materials efficiently and cost-effectively.

The bulletin emphasizes the importance of these programs and advises fire departments to be aware of the costs and regulations associated with AFFF removal, as well as the potential carcinogens in replacement foams.

FSJA Comment

This report underscores the proactive measures taken by various states to address the environmental and health impacts associated with AFFF, a foam widely used by fire departments for firefighting.

The financial data presented reveals the substantial investments states are making to manage the disposal of this material responsibly.

The anticipated regulatory changes by the EPA, specifically the proposal to list certain PFAS compounds as hazardous under RCRA, highlight the urgency and importance of these programs.

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