Fire suppression foam found in groundwater

State fire marshal seeks answers

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published April 10, 2018

METRO DETROIT — Fire suppression foam containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, have been found in Michigan groundwater, and state Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer is looking for answers and input on the issue from fire service entities, according to a press release from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART, recently announced that Sehlmeyer is seeking the input of Michigan fire service departments and organizations when it comes to the use and disposal of fire suppression foam containing PFAS, according to the release. 

MPART believes that certain foam used during fire suppression and firefighter training may be the reason behind the PFAS found in groundwater in Michigan communities. 

Sehlmeyer is surveying more than 1,000 fire service departments to help determine the amount of PFAS foam used and to create statewide solutions to get rid  of the firefighting foam — described as toxic — and to end even more contamination throughout Michigan, the release says.

“The feedback we receive from our fire departments will be critical as MPART continues to develop detailed protocols to address this critical issue,” Sehlmeyer said in the release. “I encourage everyone in the fire service community to participate in the survey and provide their best practices on the safe disposal of firefighting foam containing PFAS.”

The release adds that Gov. Rick Snyder’s Executive Directive 2017-4 established MPART to create a concise and efficient response to PFAS contamination spreading across Michigan. 

The team is responsible for helping to assist the feedback from local, state and federal agencies, and in identifying, communicating and addressing the potential effects of PFAS in Michigan and protecting public health, the release says.

A press release from November 2017 on www.michigan.gov states that MPART would be led by retired Michigan Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Isaacs, who was authorized by Snyder to ensure “timely action” is taken on all environmental, public health and public information aspects regarding the PFAS.

According to the release, for over 50 years, PFAS chemicals have been broadly used in industrial applications and on military bases. 

The background on potential public health effects is still developing, according to the release, but the use of PFAS chemicals is declining, and research on how to deal with the contaminants from them is not fully identified, according to the release. 

PFAS were commonly used in firefighting foams, cleaning products, household cookware and carpets, and food packaging, including some fast food wrappers and some microwave popcorn bags, according to the release.

Rapid response teams including state and local agencies have been investigating some sites in Michigan for potential contamination and are making moves to protect public health, according to the release. Those response teams are important to helping keep the regions of the state potentially affected by PFAS contaminants safe, the release adds.

“To safeguard Michiganders from this emerging contaminant, it’s critical that responding agencies at all levels are effectively communicating and coordinating efforts,” Snyder said in the release. “This team will be instrumental in establishing protocols and best practices that will allow all partners to comprehensively address these contaminants across Michigan.” 

More information on PFAS contamination and what’s being done about it can be found at mich igan.gov/pfasresponse.

In a follow-up email, Sehlmeyer said that he is seeking input from Michigan fire departments and organizations regarding their use and disposal of fire suppression foam containing PFAS, and he is trying to identify the amount currently in supply in fire departments statewide.

“At this time, the information received will be shared with the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team as they continue to develop detailed protocols to address the issue,” Sehlmeyer said in the email.

In December, Snyder signed supplemental funding that is providing statewide support for the PFAS response. Snyder signed Michigan House Bill 4320 for a combined $23.2 million to assist in the response to the PFAS found at a number of sites throughout the state.

“This is a national problem that continues to emerge across the country, and we are on the forefront of addressing this issue and how it affects groundwater and public health,” Snyder said in the release. “I appreciate the Legislature providing funds for continuing efforts to seek answers and help communities statewide take action to address contaminated sites.”

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, will provide the funding to support new positions at the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services to sample and analyze well water, purchase new lab equipment, help with response activities, and provide support for local public health departments, the release states.

The bill also asks for reimbursement from the federal government for costs incurred at military sites, adding that state funds should be used only after other available funding has been used.

The supplemental fund also includes $375,000 for real-time drinking water monitoring in the Lake Huron to Lake Erie corridor. It is now Public Act 201 of 2017, according to the release.

For more information, visit www.legislature.mi.gov. 

For safety tips, visit the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/bfs.