GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Three years into its mission, the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team announced it has collected more than 60,000 gallons of firefighting foam that contains PFAS.
MPART has collected and safely disposed of 60,395 gallons of Class B AFFF — aqueous film-forming foam. MPART — a part of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy — has worked with the Republic of Livonia to transfer the foam.
Some samples of AFFF will be kept “for possible laboratory analysis in the future” while the rest of it has been taken to a licensed facility in Idaho, solidified and placed in a hazardous landfill.
“Michigan’s proactive approach to attack(ing) PFAS contamination at the source has prevented tens of thousands of gallons of concentrated PFAS compounds from intentionally or unintentionally entering our watersheds,” MPART executive director Abby Hendershott said in a release. “The work EGLE is doing to catalogue and possibly chemically fingerprint these firefighting foams has also helped us identify responsible parties when we discover contamination caused by Class B AFFF.”
MPART says the Idaho landfill is in an arid region where the dry conditions provide an extra layer of protection to prevent the AFFF from leaching into groundwater.
PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is a giant group of chemical compounds that were first developed in the 1940s and incorporated into all sorts of products for its waterproofing and heat-resistant properties. However, decades later, research showed that PFAS compounds do not organically break down and can build up in the human body, causing serious health problems including cancer.
AFFF has been found to be a key PFAS pollutant. It is commonly used by fire departments and at airports to squelch jet fuel fires.
The more frequent exposure has put firefighters at a higher risk. Last year, the International Association of Fire Fighters told firefighters to only wear turnout gear when absolutely necessary because of concerns that even their equipment contains the “forever chemicals.”
“It is essential that unnecessary carcinogens are eliminated or mitigated until we can find gear that poses no health risks to our firefighters,” IAFF chief medical officer Dr. Danny Whu told NBC News. We can’t control most of the toxins we encounter on the fire ground, but we can and must control the unnecessary exposures to chemicals like PFAS in our personal protective equipment.”