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House passes PFAS bills

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush shows the the type of chemical that produces foam in the city’s fire pump apparatus. He said his department uses a Class A foaming agent, which is used for fires burning ordinary combustibles. The department does not use or have any Class B, aqueous film-forming foam, which has per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, in it.

ALPENA — A package of three bills that would keep better tabs on the amount of hazardous firefighting foam used in the state was passed in the state House this week and is now headed to the state Senate.

One of the bills in the package, House Bill 4389, was sponsored by state Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, who represents Northeast Michigan, including Oscoda and Alpena counties, both of which have ongoing issues with contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

For half a century, many fire departments in Michigan fought fires with what’s called an aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, to quickly extinguish flammable liquid fires. The issue is that such so-called Class B-type foam consists of PFAS, which is now popping up around the state in the ground and water near where it was used for fighting fires.

Allor said that, if her bill is passed in the Senate and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, it would track inventories of the chemical at fire stations in Michigan and require fire chiefs to report its usage so the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy can respond.

A second bill in the package, House Bill 4390, would prohibit the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals in training and require state training to include instruction on the safe use and disposal of such products. The third bill, House Bill 4391, would establish best practices for the handling and storage of the chemical and any equipment that was exposed to it during a response or training.

The bills passed the House by wide margins.

Allor said that, at some point, most, if not all, fire departments have utilized the foam for emergencies or training, polluting many sites around the state. She said that, unfortunately, the foam will still need to be used for some fires, such as those involving gasoline and oil, which could be very difficult to extinguish without it.

Because of that fact, Allor said it is imperative that any unused or excess AFFF be inventoried and, when it is used, a detailed report needs to be submitted within 48 hours to DEGLE for review and possible action.

“We want to know how much was used, where it was used, the reason it was used, and where did the runoff go?” Allor said. “Did it run into a storm drain, a ditch, or into a water body?”

Allor said the state wants to know whether there may be other locations where firefighting foam was used to combat fires or for training so they can be assessed and addressed. She said there are likely many that still aren’t on the state’s radar.

“They were used commonly for accidents where the fire was put out and everybody left,” Allor said. “There are a lot of spots that nobody knows of, I’m sure. We want to go investigate as many of these as we can, as we learn about them.”

According to Allor, the state has done a voluntary survey of fire chiefs, requesting to know if they have any AFFF and, if so, how much. So far, about 30,000 gallons has been reported, with many responses still outstanding.

Allor’s bill also would establish a chemical collection program through which fire stations and airports can have the state take possession of and dispose of any unused inventory of AFFF. Allor’s legislative aide, Jesse Osmer, said a company called U.S. Ecology, of Livonia, was hired by DEGLE for nearly $1.5 million to do the work. Osmer said U.S. Ecology will dispose of the PFAS-infused substance outside of Michigan in a manner that is safe to both people and the environment.

The Alpena Fire Department doesn’t use AFFF or any other materials that have PFAS in them, Fire Chief Bill Forbush said. When needed, his crews use a mix in the tanker truck, which produces a foam that can deal with most types of fires they encounter. He said many fire departments have done away with AFFF, except some who are stationed near gas refineries, airports, or other places where a large liquid chemical spill is possible.

“This really doesn’t affect us, and, as far as I know, we really haven’t had Class B foam containing PFAS,” Forbush said. “We have foam capability on our apparatus, but we use all Class A foam, which is used for ordinary combustibles. It is a different kind of foam, works a different way, and has none of those chemicals in it.”

Allor said the bills were introduced as a package, but are not tie-barred to one another and can be passed individually. It is not known when or if the proposed laws will be reviewed and acted on in the Senate.

“I hope the Senate gives it support,” Allor said. “Once I find out what committee it is assigned to, I’ll make direct contact with them to discus the importance of this.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.