Disposal of Toxic Firefighting Foam Top DEM Priority

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Industrial compounds called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances have been used for firefighting, in aqueous film-forming foams, the use of which have contaminated hundreds of U.S. aquifers, according to  University of Rhode Island research . (istock)

Industrial compounds called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances have been used for firefighting, in aqueous film-forming foams, the use of which have contaminated hundreds of U.S. aquifers, according to University of Rhode Island research. (istock)

By ecoRI News staff

The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reaching out to Rhode Island fire departments to assist with the removal and disposal of toxic firefighting foams. Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) made before 2003 contain certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have the potential to move through the environment and contaminate groundwater and drinking water sources.

“DEM is committed to protecting Rhode Island’s water resources and drinking water supplies from contamination by the toxic compounds found in firefighting foam,” agency director Janet Coit said. “If not properly disposed of, this material poses a serious threat to the health and safety of our environment. We need to look no further than the Oakland-Mapleville Water District in Burrillville, where drinking water supplies were contaminated by fire-fighting foam that wasn’t disposed of the right way.”

To help Rhode Island fire departments dispose of current inventories of this legacy foam, DEM’s Office of Emergency Response has secured a bulk rate from New England Disposal Technologies Inc. for the removal and incineration of the foam from fire department stockpiles.

Although individual fire departments are responsible for removal and disposal costs, DEM will streamline the pick up of the materials if needed. To minimize costs, DEM will designate one centralized location in each of Rhode Island’s five counties where fire departments can drop off their AFFF inventory with the disposal contractor. Using centralized locations and economies of scale will save all participating fire departments time and money. This fall DEM sent letters to all Rhode Island fire departments to make them aware of the program.

Manufacturers stopped making the foams in 2002 and have since developed formulations of AFFF with different types of PFAS that they believe have less of an impact on the environment. However, the environmental and health impacts from exposure to these other PFAS compounds haven’t been fully investigated.

DEM is advising fire departments that these materials need to be stored properly. Best-management practices include storing containers of AFFF in containment areas and away from drains. In addition, DEM “strongly recommends” that fire departments use safer training foams that don’t contain PFAS for training exercises and limit the use of AFFF to actual fires.

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