July 14, 2020

Michigan Fire Departments to Regulate Use of Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS

Michigan legislatures passed a new bill into law that regulates the use and reporting of firefighting foam containing potentially toxic chemicals called PFAS. On July 8, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bills 4389 and 4390 into law, responding to the outbreak of drinking water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam.

Industrial chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made substances that are incredibly resistant to heat and oil. These chemicals have been added to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) since the 1940’s to help put out fires.

Firefighters in military, airport, and civilian departments have used firefighting foam containing PFAS for decades in both training and active use. However, recent research has linked exposure to PFAS to cancers, including prostate, ovarian, and testicular cancer.

From its active use and for firefighting training, toxic AFFF foam has been found to seep into areas and groundwater surrounding airports, military bases, and firefighting stations. Local wells across Michigan used for drinking water have tested positive for PFAS, especially those located near places that use firefighting foam.

One of the stipulations outlined in Michigan’s new firefighting foam law is that fire departments have 48 hours to tell state regulators if they used firefighting foam containing PFAS.

Gov. Witmer said by signing the bills, “we ensure any time a fire department uses firefighting foam that contains PFAS, the state is notified and the foam can be disposed of, so these forever chemicals don’t seep into our drinking water and needlessly harm Michiganders.”

Additionally, the bill calls for more firefighter training in how to handle PFAS-based foams. This means firefighters must be certified before using the toxic foam.

“The training in the past was more on the mechanism for delivering the foam and not as much on the health risks,” Jeff Yaroch, a state representative and former firefighter said. “When I was in the fire department, PFAS was not known to have all these health risks.”

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