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Ohio will help fire departments destroy PFAS-laden firefighting foam

A container with machinery inside. A man is standing inside the container pointing at a piece of equipment. Just outside of the container, a man and woman are peering inside the container.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
Revive Environmental president and CEO David Trueba is showing Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio EPA director Anne Vogel one of the PFAS annihilator units that will be used to destroy AFFF.

Ohio has launched the first program in the country to collect and destroy PFAS-laden firefighting foam.

The takeback program is a statewide effort for fire departments to dispose their stores of Aqueous film forming foam, otherwise known as AFFF – one of the most pervasive sources of "forever chemicals."

Until now, Ohio fire departments have had no way of getting rid of their stores of foam, which can risk residents' health if the foam contaminates soil and drinking water.

While there are no official figures, state officials estimate there are tens of thousands of gallons of the foam in Ohio, which has been piling up while waiting on a solution.

To be 'annihilated'

AFFF is a firefighting tool that’s been used since the 1960s. It also happens to contain PFAS, which are man-made chemicals coming under increased regulatory scrutiny for its links to certain cancers, increased infertility, and other health risks.

“And up until now, we've had no good answer for (the fire departments) because there was no way to really safely dispose of it. You either burn it off and it goes up in the air, or it goes down into the water."

Gov. Mike DeWine, as well as Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, were among some of the officials that came to the kickoff event in Fairborn this week.

In 2022, Ohio banned its use in firefighting training. However, there wasn’t a way to get rid of it.

But through the takeback program, the state of Ohio will partner with the environmental services company Revive Environmental to collect and destroy the firefighting foam.

Columbus-based research institute Battelle developed the PFAS Annihilator technology that will be used to destroy the foam and then formed spinout company Revive Environmental to commercialize it.

It works by putting the chemicals under intense heat and pressure which break the molecular bonds that make PFAS so durable.

DeWine said fire departments have been concerned about storing the foam for years.

“And up until now, we've had no good answer for them because there was no way to really safely dispose of it. You either burn it off and it goes up in the air, or it goes down into the water,” DeWine said. “So today, for the first time, we now have a place for them to bring their thousands of gallons of this that are all over the state of Ohio and dispose of it safely.”

An opportunity for disposal

Here’s how the program will work:

  • There will be 10 drop-off sites in Ohio.
  • Fire departments can register how many gallons of AFFF they have. From there, they can coordinate their foam drop-off.
  • From these 10 collection sites, all of the foam will be taken to a central facility in Columbus, which will be equipped with three PFAS Annihilators.

Each annihilator can take roughly 250 gallons of foam a day.

A white industrial room has a container with the words "PFAS ANNIHILATOR" written across it. In front of the container are a series of machines equipped with tubes, pipes and valves.
Courtesy of Battelle/Revive Environmental
The exterior of Revive Environmental's PFAS Annihilator exposes PFAS-contaminated material to high heat and pressure to break the carbon-fluorine bond and leave behind a nontoxic byproduct.

Although the program is voluntary, Vogel said she anticipates many local fire departments will take advantage.

“We've gotten so much interest. People want to get rid of this,” Vogel said.

So far, over a thousand gallons of AFFF have been registered for disposal. The company estimates they’ll destroy around 40,000 to 70,000 gallons over the program life.

Bellbrook Fire Department was one of the first departments to deposit their AFFF. They brought in 25 gallons.

Bellbrook Fire Chief Anthony Bizzarro said their department signed up right away to take part.

“It is very nice knowing that there's a proper way that this is going to be disposed of that's not going to contaminate our waterways or hurt anybody else down the road,” Bizzarro said. “And it's just a huge relief to me knowing that this stuff's out of my station now and I don't have to worry about it.”

Firefighters have an increased risk of cancer compared to the average individual.

Other states may sign on to take part. For example, New Hampshire will be the next state to collect and destroy their AFFF stores using the PFAS Annihilator, according to Revive Environmental.

This program is specific to fire departments, though other entities such as airports or other emergency departments may also have their own stores of the foam.

The PFAS Annihilator may also be used to destroy PFAS in water leaching from landfills and contaminated groundwater. Vogel said the state may explore these other uses in the future.

“Let's get this done. We know that [Revive Environmental and Battelle] are ready to lead the way in the next generation of PFAS destruction.”

Corrected: March 20, 2024 at 10:28 AM EDT
03/20/24: This story's been revised to correctly attribute the creators of the PFAS annihilator and the estimates of AFFF in the state of Ohio.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905