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Some Fire Departments Have Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS

fire trucks
WKAR File Photo

About 150 Michigan fire departments said they have reserves of firefighting foam that has the potential to contaminate groundwater.

Approximately 32,000 gallons of the foam has been identified across the state from a survey of nearly 700 fire departments, Michigan Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer told reporters Thursday in Southfield. About 400 departments have not yet completed the survey.

The foam contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Known as PFAS, the industrial compounds also have been used in waterproofing, carpeting and other products. They can get into drinking water when products containing the chemicals are spilled onto the ground or in lakes or rivers.

They have been found at more than 30 sites in Michigan.

Residents in Parchment and Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County were told this summer not to drink their municipal water for a month due to high PFAS levels.

Sehlmeyer said the state is trying to find ways to dispose of the Class B AFFF Foam which primarily is used to suppress fires involving combustible liquids, like gasoline. Fire departments are being asked only to use the foam in emergencies and not during training.

Detroit's fire department, which took part in the survey, has 36 five-gallon containers of the foam that was purchased at least a decade ago, said Robert Distelrath, Parchment fire operations chief.

Michigan's PFAS Action Response Team also is investigating if there is a safer alternative to the Class B AFFF Foam. Not all firefighting foam contains PFAS, Sehlmeyer said.

"Our goal is to educate fire services on Class B Foam while we find alternatives," he said.

The state is testing water systems across Michigan to see if the chemicals are present, according to Carol Isaacs, Michigan PFAS Action Response Team director and an appointee of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The team is taking part in roundtable sessions around the state on the PFAS issue.

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