`Foam breaker to prevent pollution`

An Indian-origin scientist-led team claims to have developed a groundbreaking treatment which can break down the remnants of toxic firefighting foam.

Last Updated: Jun 17, 2010, 18:16 PM IST

Melbourne: An Indian-origin scientist-led
team claims to have developed a groundbreaking treatment which
can break down the remnants of toxic firefighting foam -- thus
preventing water and soil pollution.

The Australian team`s achievement comes in response to
growing global concern over the cancer and environmental risks
from long-lasting chemicals in the foams used internationally
to control petrol and other fires at tens of thousands of
sites worldwide during the past half century.

According to lead scientist of CRC CARE Prof Ravi
Naidu, the advance is based on the use of modified natural
materials which break down the fire-fighting foam chemicals
into harmless substances.

"Worldwide, people have been using these foams for
fighting fires and fire drills for decades. Anywhere modern
fire services operate, there is a risk of long-lasting
contamination which may need to be cleaned up. It is to
Australia`s credit we have been able to come up with a
promising answer to this global problem.

"It is the first practical, cost-effective clean-up
solution to the large-scale water and soil pollution caused by
decades of foam use all over the world," said Prof Naidu.

The CRC team has developed a new substance called
MatCARETM to treat the contaminated wastewater left after a
fire site or practice area has been hosed down.

"Both PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA
(perfluorooctanoic acid) increase effectiveness of the foam as
a fire quencher. However, both are highly toxic chemicals and,
if they enter local water sources can accumulate up the food
chain, including in humans.

"PFOS accumulates in the liver and blood. In US animal
studies PFOS has been linked to bladder cancer, liver cancer,
and developmental and reproductive toxicity including neonatal
mortality," team member Dr Venkata Kambala said.

There are over 49 000 airports around the world,
including 450 civilian and military airports in Australia
alone. Many of these have used foam in fire-fighting exercises
for many years, as well as in actual aircraft fires, and the
chemicals have been subsequently detected in nearby
groundwater and streams," he added.

PTI