Chemistry does wonderful things for modern civilization, but in recent decades many harmful effects have been found as well. Some of that harm has come in practices of the U.S. military, partially because of the dangerous and challenging nature of the job it does.

Arizona long has been home to major Air Force bases, and some time ago water pollution was found to have occurred as a result of solvent that was used for cleaning parts. Now a new problem has come to light in the form of foam that was used for fighting aircraft fires and associated training. Fortunately, the Air Force is acting aggressively to deal with the issue, although perhaps it was slow to do so.

The Arizona Republic reported that the toxic aqueous film-forming foam was used on 13 emergency responses at Luke AFB in Glendale over more than 40 years. It also was used frequently in training exercises at the base, which has been a major pilot training center since World War II. In the past couple of years, use of the foam has been phased out. While the base’s drinking water is safe, there is some contamination in groundwater there, and the base is reaching out to test nearby wells. Area cities are saying their water is safe, but private wells could be involved as well.

The reason the foam is so problematic is that it contains what are known as “forever chemicals,” those that stay in the environment. They also travel easily underground.

Scientific advances have not only found out more about what is harmful, they also have found safer ways to do things. That is true with fighting aircraft fires and in countless other areas. Dealing with the problem of the foam known as AFFF is an example of this. The Air Force is doing the right thing, even though it may have been late to respond.

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