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Michigan's collection of 30,000 gallons of PFAS foam likely nation's largest

Otter Lake Fire Department pumper

Michigan has succeeded in what is likely the nation's largest collection and disposal program for PFAS-containing aqueous film forming foam (AFFF).

"This product has been responsible for contaminating drinking water around hundreds of US Air Force bases and commercial airports across the country, and we urge the EPA, Department of Defense and FAA to look at this program as a model for reducing the risk of PFAS contamination from federal facilities nationwide," said Steve Sliver, executive director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART).

AFFF was identified through a 2018 MPART initiative to survey and educate fire departments throughout Michigan on the appropriate use and clean-up of PFAS-containing firefighting foam.

The survey identified 326 fire departments with Class B AFFF in their inventories  nearly half of the 762 departments surveyed.

"As more and more fire departments became aware of our collection program, interest in disposing of this surplus AFFF increased," said Kevin Sehlmeyer, Michigan's Fire Marshal. "With the free collection program ending this summer, there is still time for fire departments and municipal airports to contact MPART and have their surplus AFFF collected."

For one rural volunteer fire department in the Upper Peninsula, this program was a godsend. The Otter Lake Fire Department, located in Tapiola, about 20 miles south of Houghton, had a stockpile of Class B AFFF that was looking for a home. Through the DNR offices in Marquette, Otter Lake had recently received a surplus pumper that had been stationed at a USAF base out west and had 15 to 20 gallons of AFFF foam concentrate in it. Though Chief Ted Soldan was delighted to get it, he struggled to figure out how to dispose of the foam. Soldan looked at various options to responsibly dispose of unneeded concentrate. A call to the local waste hauling facility determined that the concentrate was not classified as hazardous, and could therefore be land filled. This did not seem to him to be a responsible action to take.

"I figured we weren't the only fire department in the state with this problem, so I reached out to the Fire Marshal's office and learned about the program in place to collect and dispose of all the unneeded Class B AFFF concentrate in the state," said Chief Soldan. After about 3 years of looking for a solution to this disposal problem, US Ecology will be in the area in the next few weeks to pick up all the concentrate at the Tapiola fire hall.

Under EGLE's contract with US Ecology of Livonia, the company will collect Class B AFFF liquid from local fire departments and transport it to its licensed hazardous waste facility in Idaho where it will be solidified and disposed of on site.

Known to scientists as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are a group of emerging and potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and many other consumer products. These compounds also are used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers.

For more information on the program and the State Fire Marshal's initiative to educate first responders on best practices around the use of firefighting foam, visit the MPART website.

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