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New restrictions on PFAS-containing firefighter foam start Sept. 1

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 2:53 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Tuesday marks a big step for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources addressing a man-made contaminant often found in firefighting foam.

New restrictions on PFAS-containing firefighting foam go into effect September 1 after getting bi-partisan support in the state legislature earlier this year.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used in numerous products from firefighting foam to non-stick cookware.

As we’ve previously reported, the DNR linked PFAS groundwater contamination up in the Marinette/Peshtigo area to firefighting foam manufactured at Johsnon Controls’ Tyco Fire Products facility in Marinette.

Since then, the DNR has continuously tested the groundwater and homeowner’s wells for PFAS contaminants. On August 28, the DNR said they found an elevated PFAS level in a ditch downstream the JCI/Tyco facility.

“They (PFAS) don’t break down in the environment, at least for for an extremely long period of time and they do accumulate in the human body, so exposure to certain PFAS can cause adverse health effects and impact the environment,” said Melanie Johnson, Office of Emerging Contaminants with the Department of Natural Resources. “So we are concerned because they’re everywhere and we’re trying to determine how we can limit our exposure and prevent future exposures.”

One way to limit exposure to PFAS is to limit the use of PFAS-containing firefighter foam which the state legislature did earlier this year with 2019 WISCONSIN ACT 101.

“Effective today for Wisconsin statutes, the use of PFAS containing firefighting foam is prohibited,” said Johnson.

Although the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam is prohibited in the state of Wisconsin, especially for training exercises, there are two exceptions: it can be used in emergency firefighting operations and for testing purposes at an appropriate facility to mitigate discharge.

“Much like other spills, the law would require that if they use it in an emergency the fire departments would notify the DNR as soon as practicable without hindering the firefighting or prevention operations and they would work with the DNR to then do the mitigation and cleanup,” said Johnson.

The DNR is also working on an emergency rule that will spell out how the department will implement and administer the regulation and prohibition of this firefighting foam. The public is invited to the listening session on September 16.

“The DNR is working on an emergency rule that would implement an administrative regulation of that firefighting foam and that rule would include standards around the appropriate containment, treatment and disposal or storage of measures for those testing facilities,” said Johnson.

The DNR is also working on several water quality standards when it comes to PFAS contaminants as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have a federal standard yet.

“So we’re working through water quality standards for drinking, groundwater, etc. and we are working with the Department of Health Services who will help determine appropriate levels for human health and those processes are all underway throughout this fall,” said Johnson.

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