What Airport Operators Need to Know About PFAS

PFAS and Airports



The latest research provides new insights into PFAS contamination and its effects on the environment and public health. Not surprisingly, the regulatory landscape is constantly shifting in response.

We'd be happy to schedule a personalized briefing for your team to bring you up-to-date on all the latest details affecting airport operations. Just give us a time and date that works for you.


Schedule a briefing

Project Briefing graph image

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a diverse group of compounds resistant to heat, water, and oil. For decades, they have been used in hundreds of industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, apparel, upholstery, certain food paper wrappings, metal plating, and firefighting foams.

AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) is a significant source of PFAS contamination in and around airports. The two most concerning PFAS compounds found in AFFF are PFOA and PFOS. Since at least the 80s, research has found links between PFOS and PFOA and a number of health problems, such as: chronic kidney disease, thyroid issues, certain types of cancers, etc.

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid - PFOS molecule diagram

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)


Perfluorooctanoic acid - PFOA molecule diagram

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)


The PFAS Pipeline

While AFFF has been used by commercial airports and military bases to respond to fire emergencies, it is more extensively used as part of their onsite fire-fighting training programs. The AFFF seeps into the ground where it can contaminate the soil and ground water. AFFF that enters the storm drainage system can also contaminate local surface waters and enter the public water systems. (Traditional water treatment processes do not remove PFAS.)

Since AFFF has a lengthy shelf life, many airport operators have built up stockpiles over the years. Consequently, PFAS contamination can also be due to improper handling of AFFF supplies, or a result of degraded storage systems.

Remember, too, that PFAS doesn't degrade naturally. Even if AFFF hasn't been used for decades, the contamination can remain.

Fireman in fire proximity suit spraying fire-fighting foam that may contain AFFF


The FAA has historically required that AFFF be used in fighting aviation fires. Despite claiming that fluorine-free foams do not provide the same level of fire suppression as AFFF, this mandate is to be phased out by October 4, 2021. In the meantime, Part 139 airports must continue to use AFFF for emergency response. They are also required to test their AFFF systems during regular maintenance. This testing involves the release of AFFF.

In 2019, the FAA began construction on a research facility specifically for developing a fluorine-free replacement to AFFF. At the same time, the DoD is doing research into fluorine-free fire-fighting foams as well.

Department of Defense seal on phone screen image

Why Test Now?

Even though airports are a common source of PFAS contamination, most states do not require airports to do routine testing. That's beginning to change. For example, in 2019, California issued orders giving airports 60 days to develop a testing plan.

Organizations that specialize in environmental and personal injury litigation are also targeting airports. It remains to be seen whether the FAA's requiring the use of AFFF will be an adequate defense. Some experts don't think so.

Whether it's to respond to new regulations or pending litigation, testing can help you be prepared.

airplane at airport terminal with control tower in background

Take The Next Step



Pace Analytical® offers the only certified mobile lab in the industry capable of analyzing PFAS in the single digit, parts-per-trillion range. We can often provide same-day results and fully defensible data at a lower cost than expedited services at other labs.

Download our PFAST® data sheet to learn more about our mobile lab capabilities.

Scientist working inside Pace Analytical PFAS Mobil lab trailer

4 Reasons to Choose Pace®

Experienced thumbnail icon image


Pace Analytical® has been an industry leader in persistent organic pollutant testing for over three decades, and we were one of the first commercial laboratories to analyze for PFAS compounds.

Certified thumbnail icon image


Pace maintains certifications and accreditations in every state that offers or requires them. We're also certified/accredited by NELAC, ISO, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Energy (DOE).

Rapid Response thumbnail icon image

Rapid Response

The Pace Rapid Response Team can quickly respond to any emergency. Our team will coordinate sample container delivery, assist with technical information needed onsite, and ensure samples are delivered as quickly as possible to the appropriate Pace laboratory. In many cases, we can provide PFAS results in as little as 24 hours.

PFAST thumbnail icon image


Our mobile lab is the only certified mobile lab in the industry capable of analyzing PFAS in the single-digit, parts-per-trillion range. This lab can identify PFAS plumes and source areas and provide fully defensible data, often with same-day results and at a lower cost than expedited services at other labs.