PFAS

 New survey data will inform efforts by the state to address PFAS contamination that has occurred through the discharge of fluorinated firefighting foam into the environment. (kzenon/iStock.com)

 Madison, Wis. – More than 63,000 gallons of PFAS-containing, or fluorinated, firefighting foams are in storage across the state, according to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) survey of state fire departments. Included in that supply are 75-90 gallons stored by the Antigo Fire Department.

As requested by Gov. Tony Evers in the 2019-21 biennial budget, the DNR conducted a survey of the state’s fire departments to determine their use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams.

This survey was designed to help the DNR better understand how much, how often and why fluorinated foam is used across Wisconsin. This information will inform efforts by the state, in partnership with Wisconsin fire departments, to address PFAS contamination that has occurred through the discharge of fluorinated firefighting foam into the environment.

PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. PFAS do not occur naturally and are widespread in the environment. These chemicals bioaccumulate and can stay in the human body for many years. The discharge of PFAS-containing firefighting foam during emergency fire events or training exercises has been identified as a significant source of PFAS contamination.

PFAS are also key components in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight petroleum-based fires at aviation and manufacturing facilities.

The Antigo Fire Department serves the Langlade County Airport. Fire Chief Jon Petroskey said the department recently replaced its supply of PFAS with National Foam Universal Green, a substance that serves the same function but does not contain any PFAS.

The switch originated in early spring, as news of the possible negative environmental impacts of PFAS began to emerge. Antigo’s supply was put into storage. Petroskey estimates the department has between 12 and 15 five-gallon containers in storage.

The fate of that supply is currently unknown, but there is optimism that state funds may be made available at some point for safe disposal. The Antigo Fire Department first obtained PFAS in the 1990s, but Petroskey said his crews have never used the substance in an actual gasoline fire situation.

The statewide survey had a response rate of 72%, which includes Antigo’s participation. 

Results indicate that 77% of respondents had purchased, stored, trained with or used fluorinated foam at some point in the past. The majority used fluorinated foam for emergency fires involving flammable liquids or gas. The DNR estimates that the total amount of fluorinated firefighting foam currently in storage across the state is at least 63,200 gallons and may be as high as 96,300 gallons. It was also determined that there may be expired or unwanted foam in excess of 30,000 gallons that requires disposal.

“The DNR firefighting foam survey provides valuable insight regarding the usage of and disposal needs associated with PFAS-containing firefighting foams throughout Wisconsin’s municipal fire departments,” said Chief Chris Garrison, president of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association (WSFCA). “The survey results also clearly indicate the immediate need for resources and mechanisms for a centralized PFAS-containing firefighting foam collection and disposal program. Collection and environmentally conscious disposal of PFAS-containing firefighting foams is a priority of the WSFCA, and we will continue to collaborate with the DNR and the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC) to ensure we minimize the impacts of PFAS-containing firefighting foams on firefighters, their local communities and the environment.”

The results of this survey will support the state’s efforts going forward to mitigate the use and discharge of fluorinated firefighting foams, including the Wisconsin PFAS Action Plan and work of the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC). The DNR will continue to work with Wisconsin’s fire departments to address PFAS in firefighting foam and protect the health of the firefighting community, the environment and the general public.