Identification of novel fluorochemicals in aqueous film-forming foams used by the US military

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Jul 3;46(13):7120-7. doi: 10.1021/es301465n. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) are a vital tool to fight large hydrocarbon fires and can be used by public, commercial, and military firefighting organizations. In order to possess these superior firefighting capabilities, AFFFs contain fluorochemical surfactants, of which many of the chemical identities are listed as proprietary. Large-scale controlled (e.g., training activities) and uncontrolled releases of AFFF have resulted in contamination of groundwater. Information on the composition of AFFF formulations is needed to fully define the extent of groundwater contamination, and the first step is to fully define the fluorochemical composition of AFFFs used by the US military. Fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry (FAB-MS) and high resolution quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (QTOF-MS) were combined to elucidate chemical formulas for the fluorochemicals in AFFF mixtures, and, along with patent-based information, structures were assigned. Sample collection and analysis was focused on AFFFs that have been designated as certified for US military use. Ten different fluorochemical classes were identified in the seven military-certified AFFF formulations and include anionic, cationic, and zwitterionic surfactants with perfluoroalkyl chain lengths ranging from 4 to 12. The environmental implications are discussed, and research needs are identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Flame Retardants / analysis*
  • Fluorocarbons / analysis*
  • Groundwater / analysis
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Military Facilities
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Fast Atom Bombardment
  • Surface-Active Agents / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Flame Retardants
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical