More than 30,000 gallons of toxic fluorochemical foam has been collected from municipal fire departments and commercial airports in Michigan in an effort that state officials believe is the nation’s largest collection and disposal program of its type. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the state fire marshal’s office announced the milestone for their per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, foam disposal program on Wednesday, June 16. “There have been some smaller collection programs around the country, but this is the first statewide collection program of this magnitude that we’re aware of,” said Steve Sliver, head of EGLE’s PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART.
Since December, EGLE says about 32,000 gallons of Class B aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, has been collected for shipment to a hazardous waste landfill in Grand Ville, Idaho. EGLE awarded US Ecology a $1.4 million contract last fall to round-up the foam, which has been used to suppress flammable liquid fires by creating a chemical surfactant layer that quickly knocks down flames, traps vapors and keeps oil and gas fires from reigniting.
Foam used for training and emergency response has resulted in many examples of ground and surface water pollution over the years in Michigan and elsewhere; particularly at military bases and airports where federal rules have required AFFF use. The resulting chemical contamination has poisoned drinking water supplies and caused fish consumption advisories. Research has found elevated fluorochemical levels in the blood of firefighters who have used foams or personal protection gear coated in PFAS chemicals.
A state legislation package that would require fire departments document and immediately report emergency foam use, stop training with it and dispose of foam made with long-chain PFAS chemicals passed the state House last fall, and the state Senate this week. Michigan environmental groups are urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to sign the bills into law.
At the national level, a defense bill passed in December requires the military to phase out PFAS-laden foam use starting in 2024 and stop most training with it. The state’s free disposal program ends this summer. “There is still time for fire departments and municipal airports to contact MPART and have their surplus AFFF collected,” said state fire marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer.