Carcinogen in drinking water traced to firefighting foam

Firefighting foam containing highly fluorinated chemicals is contaminating drinking water supplies around many of the nation’s military bases, airports and industrial sites, according to a new study by UC Berkeley and Harvard University researchers.

In humans, these chemicals have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, obesity and endocrine disruption.

The study authors estimate that 6 million or more people may be drinking water contaminated with these highly fluorinated chemicals – in this case, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals are used widely to extinguish liquid fuel fires and during training exercises, and are referred to as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) because they contain a fluorocarbon surfactant, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), that reduces surface tension and increases spreading over the liquid.