A fire-suppressing foam that the Pentagon is phasing out because of health risks was inadvertently discharged in a hangar at a North Carolina Marine base on Jan. 6, the Marine Corps confirmed.
A fire-suppression system “activated and discharged” at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, in the aircraft hangar of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Attack Squadron 223, Maj. Melanie Salinas, a 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing spokeswoman, wrote in a statement to Marine Corps Times on Feb. 6.
“Personnel, aircraft, and equipment were in the hangar at the time of the discharge while Marines conducted routine maintenance,” Salinas wrote. “A Marine who was exposed to the foam was taken to a medical facility as a precaution, and was reported unharmed.”
“Several aircraft and ground equipment were damaged,” a Naval Safety Command description of the incident noted.
Aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, can quickly quell fires, especially those involving flammable liquids like oil.
But it often contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — chemical byproducts with negative health and environmental effects. PFAS don’t break down over time, and significant exposure to them has been linked to cancer.
A 2022 Defense Department analysis, made public by the Environmental Working Group, found that approximately 175,000 service members a year at dozens of bases were being exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS in their drinking water, largely because of the foam washing into groundwater.
The Pentagon in January ordered Defense Department agencies to stop buying fire-suppressing foam that contains PFAS by October, and to phase it out entirely by a year later.
Environmental, fire and emergency officials worked to contain and clean up the foam at Cherry Point, North Carolina, “to mitigate any potential environmental or other impacts,” Salinas told Marine Corps Times.
Those efforts contained the foam to the base, and there weren’t signs that it had migrated to the neighboring Slocum Creek, Salinas stated. Environmental specialists are still monitoring the situation, she added.
Cherry Point, North Carolina, officials are investigating the incident, including the damage and other impacts the foam caused, according to Salinas.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.